A survey question by Civic Science found that 56% of Americans are against teaching Arabic numerals to kids. What are Arabic numerals? Zero, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and nine. The everyday numbers that schools have taught kids in the West for the last 800 years. Snopes weighed in with a “true” rating, noting that the survey was like another viral survey question from December 2015. Public Policy Polling found that 41% of Republicans and 19% of Democrats were in favor of bombing “Agrabah,” the fictional city of Disney’s Aladdin. I very much doubt that Will Smith will be singing “bomb, bomb, bomb, Agrabah,” in the live action version of Disney’s Aladdin at the movie theaters this week. What does the survey questions about Arabic numerals and Aladdin reveal about Americans?
Arabic, sometimes called Hindu-Arabic, numerals were first invented around 500 CE in India, and used extensively by Arabic mathematicians in Baghdad in the centuries thereafter. The Arabs brought not only Arabic numerals to the West, but also fractions, decimal point, and algebra that formed the mathematical basis of modern science. The finalized form of Arabic numerals that we use today came to Europe in the 13th century CE. Arabic numerals became the rage when the Norte Dame Cathedral in Paris finished building in the same century. As scientists discovered when the cathedral caught on fire last month, 800-year-old timber burns a lot faster than brand new construction timber. Arabic numerals replaced Roman numerals to become the standard numeral system around the world.
The Civic Science survey question showed that most Americans are prejudice towards anything associated with the word “Arabic” in particular and the Middle East in general. However, I find the breakdown in responses as a reflection of education in the United States. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 25% of Americans have a college degree. Most college degree programs require algebra and calculus for graduation, exposing students to the history of Arabic numerals and Arab contributions to science.
The 29% of Americans who wanted Arabic numerals taught in schools were probably college educated or have a personal interest in mathematics. As for the 15% of Americans who have no opinion, they were being honest for not knowing and withholding judgment on what Arabic numerals were. If the high schools ever taught critical thinking, most Americans should have been for No Opinion.
A somewhat interesting coincidence that Civic Science asked about the Arabic numerals prior to Disney coming out with a live action version of their animated Aladdin. The Public Policy Polling asked their survey question about bombing the fictional city of Aladdin in the run up to the 2016 presidential campaign, as the debate over Iran’s compliance with the nuclear treaty got underway. They based the survey question on Senator John McCain singing “bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran” in tune to an old Beach Boys song during the 2008 presidential campaign.
Disney’s Aladdin had permanently fixed the story as being Persian and in the city of Agrabah even though the original text mentions neither nationality nor geography. The story may have been set in Western China, which, at one point, was part of the Persian Empire. For those of you who don’t know, Iranians are Persians and not Arabs. Replace Iran with Agrabah in the survey question, most Republicans and some Democrats would bomb the heck out of it. Never mind that Agrabah was a fictional city created by Disney, which might have been an alternative name for Baghdad in Iraq since the animated version of Aladdin came out a year after the Gulf War ended.
The brilliant minds who brought us the Second Iraq War with a $1+ trillion USD price tag 15 years ago are in the White House today, pushing for war with Iran on purpose or by accident. Something to think about while watching Will Smith in the live action version of Aladdin.