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I need to write a paper on "Ethnocentric Mathematics" and I have no idea what kind of effective teaching strategies are available. We read an article from this scholar named Tate who explained that in order to reach low achieving African American students' potential we must re-think about the current setup of mathematics education. He argues that the current math curriculum is Euro-centric, as in it reflects the cultural identities and experiences to the exclusion of other cultures. A word problem that contains the words "yacht," "spool," "crochet," etc assumes that the student is coming from a white middle class background. But after reading this article, I'm still at a loss as to how to make mathematics culturally relevant to inner city kids. How would I incorporate the students' interests and concerns (i.e the hottest rap artist, their favorite basketball players, etc) and their lives (i.e poverty, drugs, unstable families, living on welfare and institutional racism) into the math curriculum that is meaningful to them and breaks the cycle of educational inequity?

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closed as off-topic by Grigory M, WimC, Davide Giraudo, Logan Maingi, egreg Dec 20 '13 at 22:51

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There have been stories about Ivy League grads that opened schools in such neighborhoods and they are thriving (seek those out as they are having amazing results). Also, maybe read thefutureschannel.com/jaime-escalante-math-program –  Amzoti Dec 20 '13 at 21:56
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Are you asking for differences between afro-american vs. latino vs. kaukasian or rich vs. poor? For example, those (presumably afro-amaerican9 rap artists and basketball players may well have yachts ... –  Hagen von Eitzen Dec 20 '13 at 21:56
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"Spool"? People everywhere sew. Am I missing something? –  Matthew Conroy Dec 20 '13 at 22:22
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I do not see how 1+1=2 or Abelian group would be different for Chinese, white, black, Latino, ancient Mayans or modern poets, whether you comprehend it by counting the yachts or the pebbles. –  Hansen Dec 20 '13 at 22:25
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If you are going to use examples from, say, the game of cricket (or hockey or chess), you had better be sure that students understand the rules underlying the game and have somehow experienced the game as a player or frequent spectator. But I can't imagine, however, that this is a big problem in textbooks or curriculum guidelines being published these days. –  Dan Christensen Dec 21 '13 at 4:16

4 Answers 4

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I like the idea of introducing the history of math to students. But it might help to introduce things like the Chinese Remainder Theorem and the fact that what we call Algebra comes from Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, Chinese, and medieval islam. That might give them the sense that this stuff mattered to someone other than old white guys like me, and in particular to folks in what might be called the second or third world. Besides, some of the stuff those folks did is pretty nifty.

As for saying "All the problems you discuss should have to do with drug addiction rates rather than the cost of yachts," I think that this sounds like a really bad idea. Instead, perhaps you should listen to what things interest them, and use those for examples. If they talk about rap artists...do a plot of some artist's popularity vs time. If they're interested in sports, discuss the Williams sisters' accomplishments in tennis...and then introduce ideas from probability. ("If, on each point, Serena has a 52% chance of winning the point, what's the probability that she'll beat her opponent in one game? In a set? In a match?")

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Abstract thinking and problem solving are difficult when basic needs are not met. Maslow's hierarchy of needs is an excellent place to start, both for you to understand and for others to know about. Mathematics is about abstract thinking and problem solving, and these are natural things for human beings whose needs are met. Some of the things you mention interfere with anyone's ability to think and reason: "poverty, drugs, unstable families, living on welfare and institutional racism". Where are they on Maslow's pyramid? Critical thinking isn't just about numbers.

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I would think it would be all about the applications.

$2 + 2 = 4$ for everyone, but, as you've pointed out, certain nouns are more relevant to certain ethnic backgrounds. So what are the relevant examples one can use to get the points across?

Maybe collaborate with teachers who are of the same ethnic background as the students you want to teach? That way you reduce the chance of using examples that stereotype.

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I think the people with MathCorp have some experience with this so you might want to contact them. http://www.mathcorps.org/admission/

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