Volume 3 Number 2, March 1988



ISGEm Advisory Board

Gloria Gilmer, ISGEm Chair
The McKinley Center
2014 West McKinley Avenue
Milwaukee, WI 53205 USA

Gilbert J. Cuevas
School of Education & Allied Professions
University of Miami
P.O. Box 8065
Coral Gables, 111- 33124 USA

Elisa Bonilla
Centro de Investigacion del IPN
Apartado Postal 14-740
Mexico, D.F., C.P. 07000 MEXICO

Ubiratan D'Ambrosio
Coordenador Geral dos Instiutos
Universidade Estadual de Campinas
Caixa Postal 1170
13100 Campinas, SP BRASIL

Patrick (Rick) Scott
College of Education
University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM 87131

Claudia Zaslavsky
45 Fairview Ave. #1 3-I
New York,NY 1OO4O USA


ISGEm News

The International Study Group on Ethnomathematics (1SGEm) will hold a business meeting on Thursday, April 7,1988,from 4:30 to 5:30p.m. during the Annual Meeting of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) in Chicago. All interested persons are invited to attend.

At the same NCTM meeting there will be a panel discussion on Ethnomathematics (Session #27) on Wednesday, April 6, from 9 to 10 a.m. Participating on the panel will be David Davison, Gloria Gilmer, Rick Scott, Frank Swetz and Claudia Zaslavsky.

An additional theme, "What Can We Expect From Ethnomathematics?" has been added to the Day 5 Program on "Mathematics Education and Society" at the Sixth International Congress on Mathematics Education (ICME-6). The new theme will be in Timeslot 4, "Mathematics Education in the Global Village" on Sunday, July 31, 1988. Professor Ubi D'Ambrosio is being asked to be the Interview/Chair.

Ethnomathematics was the topic of a plenary session at the meeting of the National Association of Teachers of Mathematics in Mexico held in Jalapa in November of 1987. Mexican mathematics teachers responded enthusiastically to what one of them called the "novedosa etnomatematicas."

Reprinted with Permission in 1992 by International Study Group on Ethnomathematics.

In January of 1988 Gloria Gilmer presided over a panel on "The Role of Ethnomathematics at the University Level" at the Atlanta Meeting of the American Mathematical Society. Among the panelist were Marcia Asher of Ithaca College who presented a case for accepting and teaching Ethnomathematics as a regular subdiscipline of mathematics, Arthur Powell of Rutgers University who gave an Ethnomathematical perspective applied to the teaching and leaming of developmental mathematics and Solomon Garfunkle of COMAP who spoke on the Ethnomathematics of social decision making.

Ethnomathematics will also be a topic of discussion at the Second Central American and Caribbean Meeting on the Development of Teachers in Research in Mathematics Education to be held at the University of San Carlos (USAC) in Guatemala from March 24-26, 1988.


Have You Seen

"Have You Seen" is a feature of the ISGEm Newsletter in which works related to Ethnomathematics can be reviewed. We encourage all those interested to contribute to this column. Contributions can be sent to:

Rick Scott, Editor
ISGEm Newsletter
College of Education
University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM 87131 USA







"Ethnomathematics" by Marcia and Robert Ascher in History of Science, 1986.

The Ascher article on "Ethnomathematics" begins with the statement "Ethnomathematics is the study of the mathematical ideas of nonliterate people." Such a statement delimits the meaning of Ethnomathematics much more narrowly than has been done in earlier editions of this Newsletter.

They make a case for using the term "nonliterate" instead of the more value-laden "primitive" that is "a product of the theory of classical evolution." They point out that those who have accepted the theory of classical evolution have believed that "the mathematical thought of nonliterate peoples began with number."

They reject the notion that the use of number names that are same as body part names means that there was no abstraction of number without the body part any more than the use of foot as a of measure means that such use is tied to that convenient extremity. They stress that number use is shaped by cultural perspectives.

They suggest that the idea popularized by Levy-Bruhl of nonliterate people as "prelogical" and childlike in their thinking has persisted despite much evidence to the contrary because "there is political, social, economic and ideational value in maintaining that most of the people in the world are our intellectual inferiors" and because there is a "belief that higher technology goes with higher intelligence." They present a few examples to illustrate their statement that "there is not one instance of a study or restudy that upon close examination supports the myth of the childlike primitive."

They examine four approaches to the spatial environment which the human race lives: A Perspective from two American professors of mathematics on the importance of lines, a Sioux consideration of the power of circles, an Inuit view in which "no single orientation seems to be assumed in drawing or viewing," and the application of spatial models to facilitate travel among Caroline Islands.

After a discussion of the mathematics of kinship relationships, the Aschers conclude that "As Westerners, we are confined in what we can see and what we can express to ideas in some way analogous to our own..." "An understanding of what is universal and what is not, a better understanding of the mathematical ideas of nonliterate peoples, and acceptance of the fact that they are not our early history are essential to the emergence of a philosophy of Western mathematics fitting our times and our culture."

The Newsletter of the Humanistic Mathematics Network may be of interest to many with an interest in Ethnomathematics. In pursuing the two related themes of "(1) teaching mathematics humanistically and (2) teaching humanistic mathematics" it is being supported by a grant from the Exxon Education Foundation. "Please send references, essays, half-baked ideas, proposals, suggestions, and whatever you think appropriate for this quarterly newsletter." All mail should be addressed to:

Alvin White
Department of Mathematics
Harvey Mudd College
Claremont, CA 91711 USA



Some Annotated Ethnomathematical Bibliographic Entries

D'Ambrosio, Ubiratan (1987). Ethnomathematics, Campinas,
Brazil: State University of Cambinas. This new publication is a collection of articles and addresses prepared by Professor D'Ambrosio many of which are available in print for the first time. It is a trilingual effort: Some are in Portuguese, some in English and some in Spanish.

The following articles have all appeared in For the Learning of Mathematics, a Canadian Journal edited by David Wheeler. Subscriptions are available from him for $18 at 4336 Marcil Avenue, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H4A 228. Annotations were provided by Claudia Zaslavsky.

D'Ambrosio, Ubiratan February 1985). "Ethnomathematics and its place in the history and pedagogy of mathematics," pp.44-47. Ethnomathematics lies on the borderline between history of mathematics and cultural anthropology. Discussion of basic ideas in the development of Ethnomathematics.

Fasheh, Munir (November 1982). "Mathematics, culture and authority," pp.2-8. Interactions between mathematics instruction and established cultural patterns of belief, thinking, and behavior, especially in Third World countries. Importance of using cultural and societal sources and personal experiences in making the teaching of mathematics more meaningful, and how such teaching may conflict with existing authorities.

Gerdus,Paulus (February 1985). "Conditions and strategies for emancipatory mathematics education in underdeveloped countries," pp. 15-20. Examples of the author's experiences in Mozambique.

Gerdus, Paulus (June 1986). "How to recognize hidden geometric thinking: a contribution to the development of anthropological mathematics," pp.10-12. How to "unfreeze" the mathematics "hidden" or "frozen" in people's invented production techniques, using Mozambican examples.

Harris, Mary (November 1987). "An example of traditional women's work as a mathematics resource," pp.26-28. Discussion of the mathematics inherent in such traditional women's activities as knitting and weaving, as a source for classroom mathematics education. These activities are included in The Maths in Works Project of London University's Institute of Education.

Hunting, Robert P. (June 1987). "Mathematics and Australian aboriginal culture," pp.5-10. Applications of Ethnomathematics.

Macpherson, Jennifer (June 1987). "Norman," pp.24-26. Bridging the cultural gap between school mathematics and the Inuit culture.



ICME 6 to be Held in Budapest

The Sixth International Congress on Mathematics Education will beheld from July 27 to August 3,1988 in Budapest, Hungary. For general information you can write to: Tibor Nemetz, ICME-6 Arrangements, Janos Bolyai Math Society, Budapest, POB 240, 136B, Hungary.







2nd Latin American Congress

The 2nd Latin American Congress on the History of Science and Technology will be held in Brazil from June 20 to July 4,1988. For further information write to Comissao Organizadora: 2o CLA/HCT, Caixa Postal 6063, 13.081 Campinas - SP Brasil



18th International Congress of the History of Science to Meet in Germany

The 18th International Congress of the History of Science will take place in two cities in the Federal Republic of Gerrnany: Hamburg from August 1-5, 1989, and Munich from August 6-9. The general theme of the Congress will be Science and Political Order. For the first announcement write to: Prof. C.J. Scriba, Institut fur Gestrchichte der Naturwissenachaften, Mathematik und Technik Bundesstrabe 55, 2000 Hamburg 13, F.R. GERMANY