Why Do We Keep Teaching Mistakes?

It’s amazing some of the things still taught in schools.  They’re just plain wrong, but we’re so familiar with the claims it never occurs to us to double-check the facts.  Today, less well-known but equally wrong stories are also constantly circulating through social media such as Facebook because people presume someone else has already verified the information.


Columbus Was Radical in Thinking World is Round

Every educated European in 1492 knew the world was round.  Dante’s Inferno, written 150 years earlier, even describes traveling through the center of the earth and coming out the other side.

I have no idea what uneducated people thought, since they were uneducated and, thus, not writing anything down.  But those average people had no idea what Columbus was doing anyway.

Columbus Proved the World is Round

I have a hard time even crediting Columbus with finding the Americas, considering he:

  • Never saw the actual North or South American continents.  He spent all of his time on Caribbean islands.
  • Kept insisting he was off the coast of India or China.  if he doesn’t claim he found the New World, why should I?

What he 100% did not do is prove the earth was round.  That task requires actually reaching China or India, which doesn’t happen until Ferdinand Magellan. Keep calm and check snopes

Copernicus Proved Heliocentricism

Copernicus offered a mathematical model that could explain a sun-centered universe, but he provided no proof that that was what was actually happening.

Heliocentricism is Correct

The sun-centered universe theory is almost as wrong as an earth-centered one.

  • The sun is (roughly) the center of our solar system, not the universe.  Heliocentricists believed the stars revolved around the sun just as planets did.
  • Most early theories gave the planets round orbits rather than elliptical ones
  • Most early theories continued to use epicycles, which were orbits within orbits to explain  observable non-uniform movements.
  • Tycho Brahe gave us this thing:
Tycho Brahe's Very Weird Universe
Most planets revolve around the sun, but that entire sun-centered system revolves around the earth.  There’s a reason Brahe’s about fourth on the list of people you learn about in early astronomy after Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler.

As an Aside: Our entire solar system, including the sun, actually revolves around a single, central point.  However, since that point is within the sun (although not at its center) it’s certainly reasonable to generalize this as the solar system revolves around the sun.

Marie Antoinette Said “Let them Eat Cake”

There’s no evidence of this claim, which was put forth by revolutionary critics of the monarchy.  They might as well have also insisted she was born in Kenya.

Lusitania’s Sinking Brought the U.S. into WWI

Lusitania sank in 1915.  The U.S. didn’t join WWI until 1917.  I don’t know why this is so confusing.

One of the actual motivators for the U.S. going to war was Germany restarting its U-Boat program of sinking commercial ships without warning, a policy that had been postponed after Lusitania’s sinking.

Democracy Equates to Human Rights

Athens, the originator of democracy:

  • Had a population that was 1/3 enslaved
  • Allowed fathers to kill their newborns without reason
  • Allowed men catching another man having adulterous sex with his wife, sister, daughter or mother to kill the offender on the spot.
  • Was one of the most misogynistic cultures in Western history
  • Regularly married 12 year old girls to men 30 years or older, with the girls obligated to have sex as their husbands wished

Democracy describes how governmental decisions are made.  You can have a strong monarch support human rights and a democracy that ignores them.

Magna Carta Revolutionized Concepts of Human Rights

Magna Carta, which can literally be translated as “Great Charter” or “Big Piece of Paper/Parchment” (which it is), was primarily about rights of the nobles, as well as acknowledgement that King John was a total ass.

It’s not even original.  Much of Magna Carta is copied from the Charter of Liberties, written 100 years earlier.  Most of the rights granted by Magna Carta were already theoretically in play.  The fact that John so blatantly ignored them is part of what pissed the nobles off to begin with.

Ring Around the Rosie is about the Black Death

We have no evidence of the rhyme Ring Around the Rosie until the 19th century, even though the disease only affected Europe from the 14th to 17th centuries.

The connection is made via a confusion between correlation and causation.  According to the usual argument:

  • “Ring around the rosie” describes the circular bubos formed by the plague (which don’t really have a ring and which are only roughly circular, not that the average person knows this)
  • “Pocket full of posie” references the flowers people kept close by to ward off the stench of death.  This practice was, indeed, common during the plague, but it’s also not nearly the only reason people carry flowers.
  • “Ashes, ashes, we all fall down” relates to the traditional Christian funeral phrase “ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” i.e. “we all die.”

Read More: What Snopes Actually Says about Ring Around the Rosie.

One does not simply forward without Snopes


  1. Not bad but be careful of using snoopes too much.

    1. Author

      I use Snopes because Snopes gives references and full explanations. Which, incidentally, are things I look for in any source. It’s a basic part of analyzing sources and evidence.

      For example, when someone tells me Ring Around the Rosie comes from the Black Death, I ask “Why do you think that?” What evidence suggests that?”

      Snopes explains why it says, “No, it doesn’t come from the Black Death.”

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