Counting on stupidity

The world may not need more examples of stupidity or ignorance, or hatred, but examples can sometimes be illuminating and funny. I always like the tale told by Jacob Bronowski in the Ascent of Man, about how Friedrich Hegel’s thesis proved ‘philosophically’ that there could only be seven planets. The thesis was presented in 1800 and, to prove God has a sense of humour, Ceres was discovered in 1801. (Yes, yes, I know, it is not classed as a planet anymore).

In this week’s Economist there is a review of ‘The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War‘ by Halik Kochaanski. Bronowski was in some regards as much Polish as he was anything else, but what caught my eye, was a quote from Heinrich Himmler who planned to restrict schooling in Poland to four years.

The sole goal of this schooling is to teach them simple arithmetic, nothing above the number 500, writing one’s name and the doctrine that it is divine law to obey the Germans…I don’t think that reading is desirable.

And there it is. Imagine: you can teach children to count to 500, but not 501 apparently!


Post by Jonathan Rees

Clinical academic and skin watcher at the University of Edinburgh

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