During the Christmas break, I saw this screenshot of a poll in my Twitter feed. “Should American schools teach Arabic Numerals as part of their curriculum?” With 2,313 votes submitted, the breakdown was 29% Yes, 57% No, and 14% No Opinion. If that sounds familiar, a tweet based on an actual poll made headlines in 2019. That poll had 56% of Americans against Arabic numerals. What does these tweets reveal about Americans in 2022?
2019 Civic Science Poll Tweet
John Dick tweeted a Civic Science poll that 56% of Americans didn’t want Arabic numerals taught in the schools. The poll question was, “Should schools in America teach Arabic Numerals as part of their curriculum?” The breakdown for 3,642 responses was 29% Yes, 56% No, and 15% No Opinion.
What are Arabic numerals? One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, and zero.
The everyday numbers that Western schools have taught for the last 800 years. In short, 56% of Americans don’t want everyday numbers taught in the schools.
A Short History Lesson
As someone pointed out, everyday numbers weren’t called Arabic numerals in grade school. Grade schools teach to the lowest common denominator. If you want to learn about Arabic numerals, you must go to college.
Arabic, sometimes called Hindu-Arabic, numerals appeared in India around 500 C.E. Arab mathematicians in Baghdad used “Hindu numerals” for centuries. Europeans called them “Arabic numerals” because Arab merchants brought them to the West in 976 C.E..
Arabic numerals replaced Roman numerals except for years and clock faces. When I was in grade school in the 1970s, we had to learn Roman numerals to tell time.
2019 Civic Science Poll Political Breakdown
Another chart showed the political party breakdown for 2,197 respondents.
- Republicans were 36% of the responses and 72% opposed.
- Democrats were 30% of the responses and 34% opposed.
- Independents/Others were 34% of the responses and 57% opposed.
Democrats are more college educated than Republicans and Independents. Teaching Arabic numerals in the schools isn’t a big deal to them.
Being less educated is also associated with being more bigoted. Not surprising that Republicans and Independents are against Arabic numerals in the schools.
In today’s political environment, a campaign against regular numbers in the schools wouldn’t surprise me.
Arabic Numerals The Meme
A screenshot poll with 56% of Americans against Arabic numerals is now an Internet meme. Some of the comments to the tweet I saw during the holiday break were interesting.
- One person sold watches and always asked if the customer wants Roman or Arabic numerals. The common response was a watch with “just regular” numerals.
- Another person told them to offer a watch with Hebrew numerals instead.
- Someone else suggested a watch with no numerals but indices for the hours. Some customers can’t tell time without numerals on the clock face.
Only Americans get hung up about Arabic numerals. That’s because people are stupid.