Mind Blown! Ok so I am a bit of geek getting all excited about a talk on math and how its not as straightforward as I thought. I have been around long enough that math required memorization and more memorization of addition and multiplication facts. We did page after page of the same thing each step getting progressively more difficult. We always had to show our work, for every single question, and if you didn’t even though you would have the right answer it was wrong. We were never allowed calculators in class, at least until algebra, because “you won’t always have a calculator with you, so you better know this.”
Living in my sheltered white settler world, I never really thought about how math would be different. How could it be drastically different, maybe the symbols were written differently in different languages, but the facts were still the same. We all used base 10, right. I also thought that math was probably as close to neutral as you could get with curriculum, of course the word problems were not neutral but everything else was right?
After today’s lecture, not even close. To be fair to myself and probably most of us, who has really thought about the different numerical bases that are in use. I never have, not something that has interested me enough to research. I did know from my school days that ancient societies used different numerical bases, but that was ancient, I never considered modern societies still use something other than base ten. In Poirier’s article, she talks about math being more about measuring time, and quantities. Math is part of survival in the cold northern communities. Numbers are looked at in context, and in that context are part direction and spatial relations in the community. Knowing you are in the right direction is very important in vast spaces, like Inuit communities, specificity in describing landmarks is a matter of life and death. So, in this context 3 inside is very different than just 3 objects. Measuring and using body parts as your “rulers” is also essential, with out a well fitted parka it might get awfully cold. Many good seamstresses use their hands to measure. My grandma, her fingers were never wrong, but a ruler might be. Using body parts, for measuring, is also survival, when you get out in the cold you don’t want to be taking mitts and gloves off to manipulate a tool, but you can measure with your arm quick. The marking of time through natural events, and not suns, moons and modern calendars suit the remote life as well. Animals for a long time have been used to predict the weather, their natural rhythms know when to grow a warm coat or shed. It helps the Inuit know when to do certain things.
The Inuit way of math is essential to survival and life. Western ways of doing math is not specific enough and too incremental for the Inuit way of life, in remote communities.