Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The 10 biggest misconceptions we learn in school

The 10 biggest misconceptions we learn in school: "


There are some myths which become firmly ensconced in people's minds, even though they are quite definitely wrong. I saw this on my blog recently, when those commenting on a post about nursery rhymes were keen to prove to others that Ring a Ring of Roses was not written about the plague.

These ten are are some of the best - though I'm not sure they can all be blamed on the school system. Thanks very much to Manolith, and a post written by a teacher, Paul Jury, whose list they are. Please let me know if you can think of any more!

1) Einstein got bad grades in school.

Generations of children have been heartened by the thought that this Nobel Prize winner did badly at school, but they're sadly mistaken. In fact, he did very well at school, especially in science and maths (unsurprisingly). Jury explains this as being down to Americans interpreting Einstein's 4's as D's. Karl Kruszelnicki, however, explains that it was all to do with changes to the system of marking at Einstein's school (back in1896). Either way, the myth is not true, and children do need to work to succeed. Sorry!

2) Mice like cheese

Dear oh dear. While any young child could tell you this, any mice would (if they could speak rather than squeak) explain otherwise. It appears that mice enjoy food rich in sugar, as explained in the Times, as well as peanut butter and breakfast cereals (things, as Paul Jury points out, that are rich in grains and seeds, which they are used to). So a Snickers bar would go down much better than a lump of cheddar.

3) Napoleon was short.

Ah, the aggressive short man (often called, ironically, the Napoleon) complex. Short men love a hero and Napoleon appears to fit the bill. In fact, it appears that a mistranslation explains why some said he was just 5ft 2. He was actually around 5ft 7, completely average for the 18th/19th century.

4) Thomas Edison invented the light bulb.

I don't know how many times I've heard this one and wanted to point out that it's just damn wrong! Edison invented a lot of things - in fact he's one of the most famous inventors of all time - but the light bulb wasn't one of them. What he did was develop a light bulb at the same time as the British man, Joseph Swan, who came up with it originally...

5) Lemmings throw themselves over cliffs to commit suicide

Why do we have such negative opinions of lemmings? The poor old things are sometimes so desperate for food that they do, according to the BBC "jump over high ground into water", but they aren't committing group suicide. Paul Jury blames Disney for showing the lemmings doing this in an early nature film. They've been tarnished ever since.

6) Water flushes differently in different hemispheres

No it doesn't. Sorry!

7) Humans evolved from apes

Darwin didn't actually say this, but he's been misreported ever since. What he did say was that we, and apes, and chimpanzees for that matter, had a common ancestor, once, a long, long time ago.

8) Vikings had horns/helmets with horns.

This may upset an awful lot of people, but it's pure myth. According to the Jorvik Centre, it appears that Vikings may have been buried with their helmets and with drinking horns. When they were dug up by the Victorians, they assumed that the helmets had horns....(I have to say that, until now, I had believed this one!)

9) Columbus believed the earth was flat

He didn't, you know. He may not have known how big the world was, but he wasn't worrying about falling off the edge of it. Read Teaching History on this very issue.

10) Different parts of the tongue detect different tastes

You do have different taste buds on your tongue and some are more sensitive than others. But they aren't divided into perfect, easy-to-teach sections. See BBC Science for more on this...

Read School Gate:

Eight reasons why non-teachers will never understand teachers

Why children should learn about kings and queens

7 ways to get your children to do their homework


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