Ethnomathematics

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Feb 24 13:18:27 MST 2003


Mike Friedman wrote:
> Peter,
> 
> Actually, Exploratorium director Maurice Bauzin, one of the implementers 
> of 'ethnomathematics' and a collaborator of Freire's in Brazil, would be 
> a good person to contact. When I was teaching high school science, he 
> and I corresponded a bit regarding a Freirian approach to science 
> education.
> 
> Cheers,
> Mike

Maurice is on the Science-for-the-People mailing list. 
(http://list.uvm.edu/archives/science-for-the-people.html) This was his 
response to the Ethnomathematics article.

Dear all, several of us, "Science ft People" types, who teach math, use 
activities with a content extracted from mathematical data from other 
cultures, or from the past or even the present of our Western stuff. 
Deciphering a quipu (as I have people do, and you can find in my book 
from The New Press:

Math and Science Across Cultures Activities and Investigations from the 
Exploratorium will bring students the joy of discovery and allow them to 
elaborate counting and writing methods. Doing statistics on the 
consequences of reaganomics (as Marilyn Frankenstein does in her book: 
Relearning Mathematics:...) brings students to the reality of several 
math concepts and several social concepts at once. In both cases it is 
relevant to intellectual and social life; it treats students as people 
who are interested in the same things that we all find interesting. And 
we all know what students do not find interesting in the usual math 
exercising....

Academics are now going into sociology of ethnomathematics. It reminds 
me of the guy who interviewed us all to write about the sociology of the 
history of radical scientists...But he had no praxis of any radical 
science, and today too many people simply talk about ethnomath and don't 
do anything like counting strips in baskets. I got very tired of this 
academic discourse and its nuances and of the pedagogicalese that 
shrouds it all.

Being historically materialistic, I note that Claudia Zaslavsky was a 
math teacher in New York when she decided to research in Africa proper 
what became the book "Africa Counts" in 1970. That was concrete and she 
used no fancy category name. She was just a math teacher interested in 
what she did and the people she did it with, in an ethnically mixed New 
York public school.

Recently I had the responsibility to work with Baniwa indians in the 
upper Rio Negro area of the Amazon. I grouped teachers to look at 
several baskets that weavers had made but had been rejected for 
commercialization because of some "error" in the decorative patterns. 
They discussed in their own language how these "errors" occured. They 
did a lot of what we usually call math, but they had fun and they were 
doing work that was useful within their culture. We wove various baskets 
together and I insisted upon counting this and counting that and 
comparing, and questioning the choices; and they learned from one weaver 
in the group how to name some specially placed strips along diagonals in 
the base, and she would explain to the others what that name meant to 
her, in their language. They helped me accompany it all, translating 
into Portuguese what they wanted me to understand. After two weeks they 
decided that there was a thing in their ethnic activities that 
corresponded to what I had studied in France and was called mathematics 
in the white man's world. They baptized me as "etnomatemático". But this 
official sounding process was soon to be brought to size as someone read 
off one of the numerous messages that workshop participants write up as 
"friendship messages"; one, addressed to me, said: "Listen my 
teacher-friends. Now I shall be big etno Matematico, just to wear 
trousers with their bottom torn. Because, when ourselves be big "etno 
matematico" we do not earn money anymore but only actually work. Signed: 
Little Rat."

I'll be working again with them in August and will take along stronger 
trousers. Maurice

Maurice Bazin
Rua Pau de Canela 1101
Campeche/Florianópolis 88063-505 BRASIL
Fone: 55 48 237 3140 Fax: 55 48 338 2686
(Talvez você precise avisar. May need oral warning)

e-mail: mauriceb at floripa.com.br

-- 

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