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Funny Things Children Say: A History Lesson in Fundamental Arithmetic.

Updated on June 10, 2013

Funny Things Children Say:

A History Lesson in Fundamental Arithmetic.

Mr McKillop was developing an unhealthy but entirely understandable dread of Class 4B.

Not that they were unruly or disruptive, although they did tend to bring chaos to his peace of mind at every turn.

In fact Redderburn Primary School was set in a pleasant catchment area in the southern English town of Dribbitch well away from the down-trodden estates.

The other schools down there had to deal with more disobedience, vandalism and the occasional pyromaniac.

On the other hand, most of the families living around Redderburn Primary were respectable, hard-working people. They were the kind of conscientious and socially committed parentage who wanted nothing but the best for their offspring.

But sometimes McKillop yearned for those far off days of the three R's and of rote-learning, desks in orderly rows and where children obeyed your every command. Not that 4B were disobedient, far from it, as a more polite and considerate collection of eight-year olds you would struggle to find. The problem was that they were politely inquisitive, free-thinking young minds and most of them unafraid to challenge the most adamant assertions and worthiest of teachers.

Today would be no different as McKillop introduced the topic of the upcoming celebration to mark 50 years of the school;

"Well children, as you know we will be celebrating the anniversary of the school in April of next year. That's fifty proud years since we began in 1961 until 2011 next year"

"Why do you say twenty-eleven sir?" asked young Toby Humphries,

"Why do I say twenty-eleven? Because that's the date for next year young Toby and if you'll do your arithmetic you'll find that sixty-one plus fifty gives you twenty-eleven"

"But you can't say twenty-eleven or even twenty-ten" Toby persisted, "You can say twenty-one, twenty-two right up to twenty-nine but then after that you change to thirty"

McKillop closed his eyes for a second and steadied himself for a more elaborate discussion than he had intended. Long ago he had prepared his classes by allowing extra-time for long, drawn out explanations. Even the seemingly transparent or obvious usually required a qualification or a prolonged session;

"Yes! That's right but only when we are talking about numbers" replied McKillop, "Here we are talking about years"

"But aren't years just numbers anyway?" asked Roderick Danbury,

"Of course Roddy but what Toby is referring to is the twenties and they do indeed only go up to twenty-nine. When we say twenty-ten what we are actually meaning is two thousand and ten you see" McKillop explained,

"Why is it two thousand and ten then?" Jemima Foster enquired, quite innocently,

It seemed a silly question at first that queried a self-evident fact but McKillop welcomed the question. Being of a philosophical mind he occasionally indulged in a critical look at things we normally take for granted.

"Aha! That's simply because we take the date from the birth of Jesus Christ over two thousand years ago. So when we say 'twenty' we are talking about twenty centuries ago"

"But this is the 21st Century" piped up Barney Lister,

McKillop took a deep breath and held his patience. Barney was a pleasant, unassuming little chap who was popular with his classmates. But not the brightest star in the mighty firmament since McKillop had been over this ground before;

"Correct! This is the 21st Century, indeed it is" he replied,

"Then why is it called twenty-ten?" said Barney,

"Because as we discussed before, on more than one occasion if I may add, the first century counts as zero"

"So nothing happened then?" asked Jemima with a mischievous chuckle,

"Oh! Lots of things happened then, of course they did" McKillop continued,

"Like miracles and stuff?" said Micky Paltry,

"Well! Certainly for the first thirty years or so, that's for sure" laughed McKillop, "But no, but yes, but what I mean is, that century was only in double figures from 0 to 99 and then the following year would've been 100 A.D."

In saying this McKillop almost blurted out the differences between the Julian and Gregorian calendars but managed to restrain himself. Things were getting complicated enough without introducing leap years, intercalating days and the vernal equinox into the mix. And besides, he wasn't at all sure he understood the difference himself;

"It would have been 100 A.D?" asked Sally Thornton,


"So why wasn't it then?" she continued,

"Well! It was" said McKillop,

"But sir, you said it would've been" said Sally "As if, you know, it hadn't been and something had stopped it"

Semantically she had a point and Sally most certainly hadn't learned the word 'pedantic' yet. So strictly speaking he couldn't criticise and McKillop just gave a resigned explanation laced with a little contrition;

"Yeah I should have said 'was', the following year was 100 A.D."

"What's A.D. sir?" asked Roderick,

"It's what Billy Hutton has and what makes him throw chairs around the room" came a voice from the back,

"Now! That's enough George McDougall" cautioned McKillop as the class laughed, "I don't want to hear that again"

"But what is A.D. sir?" asked Jemima.

"It stands for 'Anno Domini', it's Latin for the 'Year of Our Lord' meaning 'After Christ' if you like. If you think of the centuries of the first Millenium in terms of three figures it might help. So! The first century has a zero in front of the date but you don't see it. It's like the silent 'p' in many words. Don't say a thing George or you'll be at the Headmistresses Room.

It's like the silent 'p' in grammar as you don't pronounce the zero but it's there in years such as 'oh-eighty-nine' A.D. or 'oh-ninety-nine' A.D. Then the following century, the second century has a 'one' at the start, then the third century has a 'two' and so on until 999A.D. which was the tenth century of that Millenium"

"What's a Millenium?" asked Barney,

"A thousand years" McKillop replied,

"It can't be!"

"I can assure you Barney that it's a thousand years. We can all look it up in the dictionary if you want"

"But my Dad says he wants to be on that programme" said Barney,

"What programme"

"Who Wants to be a Milleniumaire"

"Oh God!" McKillop whispered to himself,

"And my Dad said some of those idiots are lucky to get past a thousand pounds. He said he could get all the way to a Millenium cos it's only sixteen questions. so it can't be the same as a thousand sir"

"That's a million not a Millenium. A million is a thousand thousands whereas a Millenium is only a thousand" explained McKillop,

"So a million is a thousand Milleniums?" asked Sally who was quick off the mark,

"Yes!" replied McKillop,

"It's very confusing is it not sir?"

"It is today" sighed McKillop,

There was a brief and not unwelcome silence as the class processed all this new information on the Piscean Age and popular TV Game Shows.

"Now! Where were we?" he asked,

"Annie Domino!" said Tilly Muncaster helpfully,

"Well, yes, I was there at some point I think. Yes! A.D. from zero upwards to two thousand and ten where we are today"

"What was before zero then?" asked Roderick,

"Yeah sir! What was before then? Was it minus numbers?" chimed Toby,

"Here we go again" thought McKillop, "Off on another bloody tangent"

He hadn't even started discussing the anniversary celebrations and now here he was entering into the realms of ancient times. He wondered when Moses might be brought up,

"No Toby, they weren't minus numbers, we're not talking algebra here. They were just numbers, just the same as A.D. except that they were followed by the letters B.C. meaning 'Before Christ'"

"So where do they start from?" Toby asked,

"From zero I suppose, or strictly speaking 1 B.C, but let's say 'zero'. NIce to keep things simple wouldn't you all agree?" McKillop responded rhetorically,

"Then what year was Jesus born then?"

"No! No! No! Jesus was born in 1 A.D. around zero, for want of a better expression, because before then the numbers, the years work backwards"

"So they are minus numbers" Toby persisted,

"Well! OK! I guess in a way they are. I'll give you that one Toby except that we don't use the word 'minus' we just say 'B.C.'" McKillop conceded,

"Where do they end sir?" asked Sally,

"Well, they don't end really, not for all practical purposes. They just go on for billions and billions of years"

"Wow!" exclaimed Barney, " So B.C. is huge, it's miles bigger and much, much older than A.D.?"

"I know how it feels" said McKillop ruefully, "But let's leave the dinosaurs alone shall we? Let's get back to what I was trying to discuss with you all. Is that alright?",

"Yes sir!" said the class, almost in unison,

McKillop stared out into their eager faces for several seconds, his eyes then raised up to the ceiling before swivelling round to the window,

"What the hell was I talking about?"



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    • Shinkicker profile image

      Shinkicker 4 years ago from Scotland

      Thanks for the comments folks, welcome to the magical world of numbers. It just don't add up!!!! :-)

    • profile image

      mikeydcarroll67 4 years ago

      Yep I found this slightly confusing but I can see a lot of potential for being really curious about this!

    • attemptedhumour profile image

      attemptedhumour 6 years ago from Australia

      Hi Shinkicker, it is pretty confusing, you did a great job of lobbing spanners in left right and centre. I still haven't used any of those complicated formulas they tried to unsuccessfully drill into me. Enjoyed that much more than my entire school years. Cheers

    • tracykarl99 profile image

      Tracy 6 years ago from San Francisco

      It must be tough knowing everything ~ especially when one is a school teacher! Loved this!! ~ great writing, Shinkicker!!=>

    • carolina muscle profile image

      carolina muscle 6 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      I was fond of aasking questions like those.. it drove my teachers crazy!!!! Fun post, Shinkicker!!!

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