classrooms never change, part ii

“In mathematics during Hussein’s rule, students learned multiplication tables by calculating the casualty count of shooting down four planes with three US pilots in each plane.” (Tina Wang, Harvard Educational Review, January 1, 2005)

A 7th Century (AD) exercise for Armenian schoolboys: “In the times when Armenians were fighting the Persians, Zarwen Kamsarakan performed memorable feats of prowess. Attacking the Persian army, he killed half on the first attack…a quarter on the second…and an eleventh on the third. Only 280 Persians survived. How large was the Persian force before he laid them low?” [Peter Brown’s The Rise of Western Christendom, quoted in a review by Robin Lane Fox.]

It seems that the math was harder in 7th-century Armenia; and the casualty counts were higher.

(I’m collecting these examples of the remarkable persistence of educational approaches over millennia.)

2 thoughts on “classrooms never change, part ii

  1. Tony

    If my math is right, the original size of the Persian army was 1760 soldiers. This assumes the “quarter on the second try” refers to a quarter of the original total, not the remaining total. Am I right?

  2. Peter Levine

    I don’t have the ancient Armenian answer key, but Tony’s interpretation sounds good to me.

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