Thursday, August 27, 2009

Multicultural math, anyone?

From I discussion I joined at education.change.org:

SJ quotes the following in support of there being substantial cultural effect on math learning:

http://spot.colorado.edu/~gubermas/NCTM_pap.htm
and:
There are those who suggest that mathematics is 'culture free' and that it does not matter who is 'doing mathematics' the tasks remain the same. But these are people who do not understand the nature of culture and it's profound impact on cognition.(Ladson-Billings, 1997, p. 700)

KB's response:

Ladson-Billings is not a cognitive scientist; I strongly suspect that cognitive scientists involved in empirical research on math acquisition, e.g., Stanislas Dehaene, would disagree with her general thesis about the "profound impact" of culture on cognition.

SJ:

Did you read the study that was above quote? The quote was from a paper by Dr. Steven Guberman - University of Colorado at Boulder. Other research includes Supportive Environments for Cognitive Development. - The above research "Cultural Aspects of Young Children's Mathematics Knowledge" was used by NCTM.....all of this doesn't matter huh?

KB:

As I read it, the above paper mostly discusses cultural variations in pre-K mathematics exposure. These don't constitute a "profound impact" of culture on cognition, but rather the not-so-surprising fact that pre-K math preparation affects k+ math preparedness.

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As far as left-brainers, my specific concern with claims of "profound" cultural impact is that they tend to further justify those practices that are particularly problematic for left-brain students: more group work; more hands-on activities; less conceptually challenging math...

... All because students from "other cultures" supposedly are culturally programmed not to be able to handle the kind of traditional math that's still taught in Europe--and the Indian subcontinent and East Asia, among other places around the world.

2 comments:

Obi-Wandreas, The Funky Viking said...

Cultures are not living things with rights. Cultures are simply a shared way of doing things and seeing the world. If there is any culture which makes it difficult for a student to be educated, this culture does not need to be respected, it needs to be eliminated post-haste.

It seems to me that those who are against the existence of objective truth are those who simply find those truths uncomfortable.

Hainish said...

OW, do you mean specific cultural practices, or entire cultures? Because one could argue that mainstream modern U.S. culture makes children hard to educate (with its ideas about autonomy and rights and all). I agree, though, that much of the postmodern thinking about math is done by people who don't know much about math.