'Ethnomathematics' Embraces Non-European Methods of Math; Critics Fear a Decline in Rigor

| October 26, 2000

Good-Bye Pythagoras?: 'Ethnomathematics' Embraces Non-European Methods of Math; Critics Fear a Decline in Rigor, Elizabeth Greene, The Chronicle of Higher Education
Professors are defining a new way of teaching math they call 'ethnomathematics,' or math from a cultural perspective. Elizabeth Greene in the Chronicle of Higher Education investigates whether, as some critics fear, this signals a flagging rigor in the field and perhaps even the dethroning of its early heroes, like the Greeks Pythagoras and Euclid. This politically correct math has already been applied in some interesting ways. Teachers have illustrated the concept of slope by using the geometric designs in Navajo rugs, for instance, and taught positive and negative line intersections from early Mormon street maps. Critics of ethnomathematics worry that such methods are a waste of precious classroom time and a threat to European standards. Advocates say that augmenting the traditional approach with a new appreciation for non-European mathematic and history and knowledge will enrich a discipline long overdue for an update. -- Amanda Luker
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