Quote-every culturre has mathematics
Image source: http://www.azquotes.com/quote/290310


I’ve seen the above quote several times since I started my research, and I am not convinced I agree.
From my reading so far, it appears different cultures have different ideas about mathematics (and numbers).  Their meanings and their uses are tied to specific cultural groups, and each group (even Academic mathematicians) has its own Ethnomathematics (Borba as cited in Powell and Frankenstein, 1997).
But I digress – I’ll discuss that in a future entry.

What the above paragraph tells me, is that mathematical language, including the use of numbers,  is dependent on the cultural ways of knowing, and doing, and  the world in which it is practiced. Therefore; it is not universal. Ok, I acknowledge, the quote might have been taken out of context – in fact, there didn’t appear to be one… so, I went looking, to see if I could verify the source, and in context, agree with the quote after all, or discard it as internet creativity.

‘Telling Stories Through Numbers with Daniel Tammet’ (Jassat, 2012)
Jassat uses the quote when referring to Tammet’s 2014 book – ‘Thinking in Numbers: how maths illuminates our lives’.   In the article, Jassat elaborates, and gives the quote a meaning more akin to my understandings listed above. She says that Tammet believes history should be included in mathematics, and that students should understand it has meaning; passed down through generations like cultural stories.

It is in this context that Tammet suggests numbers belong to everyone, because he acknowledges every culture has, as with literature, contributed to maths. Further, according to Jassat (2012), Tammet explores the notion that civilisations use mathematics  (the concept of numbers) differently; thereby clarifying (for me), that his reference to universal numbers does not mean they are seen the same way by everyone. Rather, when Tammet refers to the universality of numbers he refers to the global (universal) contribution to mathematics, rather that one (universal) meaning.  This supports what I’ve read so far, and what I’ve learned throughout my degree.

In addition to the above, and from the same article – I’ve come to consider Tammet’s idea that mathematics needs to be more interesting.
He likens boring mathematics lessons to learning language purely through grammar. Imagine not being able to read or tell a story, or write a poem, or explore a recipe… He suggests involving stories, and using words as well as numbers, which supports our learning and first assignment this semester. Historically, mathematics involved problem solving, or at the very least asking the questions, in order to understand, or improve the world people lived in – and so it should be today.

Yet, the question remains, what does that mean for the classrooms of today? Presumably one is not able to completely change the mathematics curriculum to incorporate cultural understanding for all groups. I think I’m still missing something!

Whilst looking for information about the above quote, I came across the following Daniel Tammet: different ways of knowing TEDtalk (2011).

In it, Tammet talks about his synaesthesia – through which he sees numbers as colours and shapes. He explains that perceptions, and the way we see and understand the world are ‘at the heart’ of how we learn.

He suggests that numbers, like words, represent the relationships between the content and experiences of our worlds, and that it is through living the experiences that we come to understand the relationships.  Finally, he hopes, that by acknowledging the importance of perception, we can view and understand the world in different and more interesting ways.

Isn’t that every teacher’s goal for their students?


Jassat, F. (2012, 2 May, 2016). Telling Stories Through Numbers with Daniel Tammet, online article, Huff Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/farah-jassat/daniel-tammet-telling-stories-through-n_b_2128717.html

Powell, A. B., & Frankenstein, M. (Eds.). (1997). Ethnomathematics: challenging Eurocentricism in mathematics education. Albany, US: State University of New York Press.

TED.com (Producer). (2011, 2 May, 2016). Daniel Tammet: different ways of knowing. [Online Video] Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/daniel_tammet_different_ways_of_knowing