Evolution of a dream: The emergence of Mayan ethnomathematics and expressions of indigenous ways of knowing at a Mayan autonomous school in Chiapas, Mexico

Phoebe Hirsch-Dubin
Gevirtz Graduate School of Education, University of California, Santa Barbara
June, 2005


The purpose of this four year collaborative teaching and ethnographic study at a Mayan autonomous school in Chiapas, Mexico was to provide teaching and material support for the emergence of Mayan ethnomathematics. In the course of doing so, it became clear that respect for indigenous ways of knowing encouraged teaching partners to work from their own knowledge base. It became important to develop ethnographic methodologies sensitive to indigenous knowledge construction and to demands of this particular site. Gaining access and working collaboratively with Mayan teachers and students was rooted in a mutual conscientization process (Freire, 1973, 1985, 1998) at the heart of our intercultural dialogue. Data analysis principally of teacher workshops helped to identify turning points in the emergence of a Mayan ethnomathematics perspective over time and the importance of Mayan ways of knowing. Constructs of mutual conscientization and intercultural dialogue were used to analyze contexts, interactions and slices of talk that support a view of Mayan ethnomathematics as a material resource, and expression of indigenous ways of knowing. A study of interactions, both macro and micro, were analyzed within the broader context of autonomous education, including the school's commitment to 'reclaim culture, language and resources.' Data presented in this dissertation were collected from July 2000 to July 2003 as fieldnotes, journal notes, hand written records of workshops and artifacts of teacher evaluations, interviews and school documents.