Old Math

Wentworth-Smith's Essentials of Arithmetic

Wentworth-Smith's Essentials of Arithmetic

About three weeks ago I spent a dollar to buy a very old math textbook Essentials of Arithmetic: Primary Book. Printed in 1915, I found the line-drawing illustrations on many of its pages, as well as the narrative/details of the word problems fascinating artifacts from a lost world. But the numbers, the diagrams, the simple math is the same today as it was then; the book struck me as same-time antique and modern.

I keep thinking that if I reach back far enough, I will understand what went wrong with me mathematically. At the age of 45, I am beginning to understand the problem and hope to be able to write about it sometime fairly soon.

Saturday, on the anniversary of the day Allied forces invaded German occupied Europe, I recalled a college professor in 1981, an old man, talking about the French military man, Marshal Petain, saying that he had been a hero in the Great, or First World War, but a Vichy collaborator with the Third Reich in the Second World War. He concluded that Petain had “lived too long.” I remember thinking that was an odd thing to say, because I was young enough then to think the lives of others were not to be so flippantly dismissed. I was a little shocked.

Last Saturday I thought that I am old enough to have heard people who were old enough to have known the names and deeds, and to have actually thought about heroes of the Great War and villains of the Second World War. I have one foot in the lost world, and am every day becoming more and more a part of what for my son’s sons will be a lost world. Who knows what artifacts of my passage through this time will be found in theirs?

Here is a scan from the book, pages 8 and 9:

How many of the children?
How many of the children?

Inside, in a messy cursive hand, someone has written the following childish curse:

Do not steal this book, my lad

For 53 c it cost, my lad

And on that day the Lord will say,

‘Where’s that book you stold away?’

And if you say you do not no,

The Lord will say, ‘Step below.’

According to Bettelheim (sp?), children, being innocent, demand justice, whereas adults, knowing their own guilt, prefer mercy

According to Bettelheim (sp?), children, being innocent, demand justice, whereas adults, knowing their own guilt, prefer mercy

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