AMERICA may face a great challenge if the majority of people in this country have their way.
In case you haven’t heard, a recent poll of more than 3,600 Americans found that 56 percent oppose teaching Arabic numerals in U.S. schools. The survey question didn’t explain that these numbers, which originated in the Muslim countries of the Middle East, are the ones we use every day.
We have to assume that this response stems from the lingering anger provoked by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
It would seem that outlawing the use of Arabic numerals as a form of retaliation for the 9/11 attacks is going a little far, like cutting off your nose to spite your face. Still, there are those who are in favor of doing away with them altogether.
If we ban Arabic numerals, what will take their place? Many have suggested that we go back to Roman numerals. After all, there are still a few clocks, watches and sundials around that still use Roman numerals. And some books still have Roman numeral page numbers in the appendices.
The number change will be expensive, but proponents of the change will no doubt support it. And they will probably insist that Muslim nations be required to pay for this change.
Rebuilding computers and reprinting books will take time, so proponents want to start the changeover as quickly as possible.
Changing from Arabic to Roman numerals would also require a massive re-education for the American public. Children could start the process in kindergarten, but retraining adults would be much tougher and involve mandatory classes that would begin months ahead of the changeover.
Remember that should the change occur, all street numbers would be in Roman and not Arabic numerals. So would telephone bills, electric bills—all bills.
Your monthly bank statement would show your balance in Roman numerals and the cost of a dinner at a restaurant would show up in Roman numerals.
Then there are road signs. Not knowing Roman numerals could get you lost in a heartbeat. Even GPS systems would have to be rebuilt with Roman numerals.
Home addresses? They will have to be changed to Roman numerals.
Sports would be affected, too. A touchdown would be VI points and not 6 points. Numbers on jerseys would change from Arabic to Roman. If Arabic numerals are totally banned, Babe Ruth’s number on that iconic retirement photograph would have to be changed from 3 to III.
How this change would affect America’s international banking efforts is anyone’s guess. If we are using Roman numerals and Europe is using Arabic numerals, there is bound to be confusion, at least in the beginning.
But I suppose that obstacle could be overcome because we now use yards and inches while most of Europe uses meters and centimeters and that all works out.
Changing from Arabic to Roman numerals would seem, at least to me, a pretty drastic means of retaliation for past Middle East transgressions, but some believe this is a necessary move.
According to Civic Science, the market research group that conducted the poll, the percentage of Republicans who oppose Arabic numerals was much higher than Democrats, 72–40.
Of course, Democrats have been pushing their own form of retaliation for years, promoting electric cars to make the Middle East’s vast oil reserves worthless.
So get ready for a number change. It could happen. Pretty soon you might be driving down Route III in your electric car with license plate in Roman numerals.
It the change does occur, one thing is certain. Latin teachers everywhere will have a smile on their faces.
Quod erat demonstrandum.