On New Year’s Eve, I, like so many other Americans, was glued to my
TV set watching ABC and PBS take us to celebrations across the globe,
beginning at some remote island in the South Pacific where the year 2000
started, then to New Zealand, Australia, Japan, China, Moscow,
Bethlehem, Rome, Paris, London, Newfoundland, Rio de Janeiro, New York,
Montreal, Toronto and Chicago. I did not stay up long enough to see the
new year arrive in Los Angeles, or Honolulu, which was probably the last
major city on earth to finally come into the year 2000.
It was amazing to see the delirium in Times Square as more than a
million folk turned out to see the famous ball atop the Times building
lowered so that the sign 2000 could light up. The only thing that
changed after that momentous countdown was a number — from 1999 to
2000. Yet that immaterial, spiritual change of one number forced
nations across the globe to spend billions of dollars on fireworks
displays, parades, concerts, dances, celebrations, and feasts, all of
which took years of preparation. My favorite displays were the
fireworks on the Eiffel Tower in Paris. It lived up to all its hype.
That tower, a culminating display of 19th century technology, has a
grace, dignity, and solidity reflecting the inventive genius of that
Why is one number so important? Why is it capable of creating
delirium among millions of celebrants? We are the only species who
believe in the power of numbers. The Bible is full of numbers. There
is even a Book of Numbers. There are Ten Commandments, Seven Seals,
Twelve Tribes, Seven Angels. God gave man not only the ability to
count, but the absolute necessity to count.
What are numbers? They are merely the names and written symbols we
give to quantities. The need to count is what makes numbers necessary.
We count everything. We count days, weeks, months, years, decades,
centuries, millennia. We count the miles we travel and the number of
hours and minutes it takes us to get from here to there. We count a
hundredth of a second in Olympic races. We count our birthdays. The
countdown of life begins at conception, nine months of gestation. Some
lives are cut short before birth, before that developing human being has
learned the meaning of numbers.
We register the day, month and year of birth and then count each
completed year of life as a blessing. Last May, I completed 73 full
years of life. My brain, like a computer, has a storehouse of memory
which is now so full that sometimes it is slow in bringing up a name or
a particular event. But memory is extremely useful in being able to
recall what life was like 50 or 60 years ago. It gives one a view of a
changing world that the young simply do not have. Reading about it is
not like having been there. And most young people do not bother to read
if, indeed, they can read.
And many young people have difficulty with numbers because of the way
they are now taught in our public schools. Math test scores have been
dismal. Why? Because the schools cannot deal with the mystery of
numbers, which is really part of religion. For example, the delirium
over the beginning of a new millennium is fraught with religious
significance. The counting in our calendar is based on the birth of
Jesus Christ, who was sent to this earth to save men from their sinful
natures, to offer them forgiveness of sin, salvation and eternal life
But humanists, who do not believe in biblical religion, prefer to
celebrate the New Year as the time in the calendar when the days begin
getting longer. They simply see mankind as a species of animal living
on a planet that revolves around the sun every 365 days or so, and
rotates on an axis which gives us days and nights. They see no
religious significance in any of this. They see no mystery in numbers.
But it is religion that has created meaning in numbers. The Lord
created the universe in six days and rested on the seventh, which is why
we have a week and a Sabbath weekend. We celebrate festivals that
conform to biblical commandments, requirements and events. God gave us
a rudimentary calculator in our ten fingers. That is why we use a
ten-base system of counting.
We also know that the marvelous technology that permitted us to place
satellites in outer space so that we could view the New Year
celebrations around the globe depended on the development of
mathematics. All of computer technology is based on the ability of the
human brain to translate numbers and letters into zeros and ones by way
of electrical impulses. Even the concept of zero is one of the great
inventions of the human brain, without which all of our modern
technology would not have been possible.
Another important use of numbers is in the forming of chronological
memory, on which all of our knowledge of history is based. In fact, the
Bible itself is the standard of chronological narration, which begins
with Day One of Creation and extends beyond the written word of
Scripture to our present-day calendar of events. History can only be
understood in chronological terms, for it permits us to analyze cause
and effect. And that is why American children are deprived of a
chronological study of American history — so that they will be unable
to understand cause and effect. They are told that remembering dates is
not important. It’s no longer necessary to know what happened in 1492,
1776, 1789, 1860, 1917, 1939, 1941, or 1945.
I became acutely aware of the importance of chronology when I was
researching my book, “Is Public Education Necessary?” I wanted to find
out why the American people gave up educational freedom for government
owned and operated schools so early in our nation’s history when the
advantages of educational freedom were so obvious in view of the fact
that that is what our Founding Fathers enjoyed. I had to do a
year-by-year investigation to finally understand how and why that change
took place. It had nothing to do with economics or literacy. It was
all philosophical, and that was a profound revelation to me. That
philosophical revolution was engineered by a small Unitarian elite that
had captured Harvard University and began its work of secularizing
education through government ownership of schools. It was the beginning
of political liberalism.
We need to know numbers in order to survive. We must count money.
We must count taxes. We must count commodities. We must count billions
and trillions in government spending. We must count people. In the
Book of Numbers we find much counting of people of different ages for
social, military and religious reasons. Civilized nations count
themselves. Counting always answers the questions of how many, how
long, how short, how high, how low.
And now we must start dating our checks, and letters, and diaries
with the year 2000 or, if we prefer to use Roman numerals, MM. The
human race has reached an incredible milestone when we think of what
life was like in the year 1000. Most of the material advance that has
so profoundly changed human life took place only in the last 150 years.
The young have so much to look forward to, provided they don’t forget
that what they enjoy today is the result of what human beings did and
invented before them. The past is, indeed, prelude.
Samuel L. Blumenfeld
is the author of eight books on education, including “Is Public
Education Necessary?” “NEA: Trojan Horse in American Education,” and
“Homeschooling: A Parents Guide to Teaching Children.” His books are
available on Amazon.com. For information about Blumenfeld’s reading
instruction program, “Alpha-Phonics,” write: The Tutoring Company, P.O.
Box 540111, Waltham, MA 02454-0111.