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Current and Future Perspectives of Ethnomathematics as a Program

Milton Rosa, Ubiratan D'Ambrosio et al.
Springer Open
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
ICME-13 Topical Surveys
[Reviewed by
Charles Ashbacher
, on

While I am a staunch supporter of the exploration of the concept of ethnomathematics, at times I question some of the statements regarding the significance of the role it plays in the world inside and outside of mathematics. After all, the pretty design in a fabric may have a mathematical explanation, but the creator was simply making the design and not performing mathematical operations. There are times in this book when ethnomathematical claims are overstated in the sense that formal mathematics probably was not used.

A case in point occurs on page 28, where there is a discussion of how the Sioux placed the three poles that held up their tipis. They placed them in the ground in a triangular shape for stability and built their fire at the centroid of the triangle. The authors use this to argue that the Sioux were applying the mathematical concepts of the properties of a triangle as well as the computation of the centroid. [Personal note: My father grew up on a farm with a creek running through it. He remembers his father giving permission for nomadic Native Americans to pitch their tipis on their farm for extended periods during the summer.]

In my opinion, this is an overreach. The triangle is the simplest stable structure that could be used, three poles are the minimum that they would have to carry in their nomadic movements. Secondly, the centroid is the point where the fire would be farthest from all three walls of the tipi, the most logical place to put it.

A trivium of terms are used in this book to describe the development of an educational model using ethnomathematics. They are: literacy, matheracy and technoracy. Matheracy is the ability to interpret and analyze signs and codes in order to find solutions. Technoracy is the ability to use technological instruments in order to solve problems and verify the accuracy of the solutions.

Despite the small number of pages, many points are covered, from the valuable ones about preserving and honoring various cultures in their achievements to the more questionable ones about how the tactics of teaching mathematics can aid or impede the expansion of democracy. This is a book where nearly all readers will find points they strongly agree with and others they seriously question. 

Charles Ashbacher splits his time between consulting with industry in projects involving math and computers, and teaching college classes. In his spare time, he reads about these things and helps his daughter in her lawn care business.

See the table of contents in the publisher's webpage.