Most Americans say ‘Arabic numerals’ should not be taught in school, finds survey

Seventy-two per cent of Republicans oppose Western world's standard numeric system, according to research designed to 'tease out prejudice among those who didn't understand the question'

Chris Baynes
Tuesday 21 May 2019 14:51
Comments
Most Americans say 'Arabic numerals' should not be taught in school, finds survey

More than half of Americans believe “Arabic numerals” – the standard symbols used across much of the world to denote numbers – should not be taught in school, according to a survey.

Fifty-six per cent of people say the numerals should not be part of the curriculum for US pupils, according to research designed to explore the bias and prejudice of poll respondents.

The digits 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 are referred to as Arabic numerals. The system was first developed by Indian mathematicians before spreading through the Arab world to Europe and becoming popularised around the globe.

A survey by Civic Science, an American market research company, asked 3,624 respondents: “Should schools in America teach Arabic numerals as part of their curriculum?” The poll did not explain what the term “Arabic numerals” meant.

Some 2,020 people answered “no”. Twenty-nine per cent of respondents said the numerals should be taught in US schools, and 15 per cent had no opinion.

John Dick, chief executive of Civic Science, said the results were “the saddest and funniest testament to American bigotry we’ve ever seen in our data”.

Seventy-two per cent of Republican-supporting respondents said Arabic numerals should not be on the curriculum, compared with 40 per cent of Democrats. This was despite there being no significant difference in education between the two groups.

“They answer differently even though they had equal knowledge of our numerical nomenclature,” Mr Dick said. “It means that the question is about knowledge or ignorance but [also] something else – prejudice.”

He said the goal of the research was to “tease out prejudice among those who didn’t understand the question”.

This bias was not limited to conservative respondents and attitudes towards Islam.

Another poll question was worded: “Should schools in America teach the creation theory of Catholic priest George Lemaitre as part of their science curriculum?”

Seventy-three per cent of Democrats answered “no”, compared to 33 per cent of Republicans – with some respondents on either side presumably assuming Lemaitre’s theory was related to intelligent design.

In fact, the Belgian priest was also a physicist who first discovered the universe was expanding and proposed its origins lay in the explosion of a single particle - an idea that became known as the Big Bang theory.

“While Lemaitre is more obscure than Arabic numerals, the resulting effect is almost identical,” Mr Dick said. “Dems are biased against Western religion, if latently.

“This kind of blind prejudice can happen on both sides.”

Civic Science's research is reminiscent of a 2015 survey that found 30 per cent of Republicans supported bombing "Agrabah", the fictional city where Disney's Aladdin is set.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in