Three Myths For Teachers

June 15, 2008

Education has long been enough of an ideological battleground for there to have been philosophies which have developed their own mythologies. A further factor in the promotion of myths for teachers is the fact that before the internet much false information was transmitted through photocopied sheets and teaching had particularly good access to copiers and printing machines. As a result there are many teaching myths repeated to students by education lecturers, transmitted around the internet, or simply quoted as fact by teachers who should know better.

Here’s three of them trawled from the internet. I’d be interested to hear if you have been told any of these myths, whether you thought they were true, and whether you can suggest any others I could add to the list.

Myth 1: The following are rules for teachers from 1872:

1. Teachers each day will fill lamps, trim the wicks and clean chimneys.

2. Each morning the teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day’s session.

3. Make your pens carefully. You may whittle nibs to the individual taste of the pupils.

4. Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they attend church regularly.

5. After ten hours in school, the teachers may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or any other good books.

6. Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.

7. Every teacher should lay aside from each pay a goodly sum of his earnings for his benefit during his declining years so that he will not become a burden on society.

8. Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool or public halls, or gets shaved in a barber shop will give good reason to suspect his worth, intention, integrity and honesty.

9. The teacher who performs his labours faithfully and without fault for five years will be given an increase of twenty-five pence per week in his pay, providing the Board of Education approves.

From http://heathhill.blogspot.com/2005/12/rules-for-teachers-1872-style.html

Actually, many variants of these rules exist, from many countries. We can safely assume that it is fake simply because there is no consistency in any version about where it is meant to be from. I was first shown them on my PGCE course by a lecturer who seemed convinced they were genuine.

Myth 2: As every SENCO knows; Einstein was dyslexic

With proper recognition and intervention, dyslexics and individuals with ADD become successful individuals using their talents and skills to enrich our society. They may take their place alongside other dyslexics/ADDs, such as Woodrow Wilson, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, and Nelson Rockefeller.

From http://www.dyslexia-add.org/

Einstein suffered from dyslexia. He is a clear example of a person who would be labelled as learning disabled in today’s educational system. With the right approach to education, these labels cannot prevent great accomplishments, as proven by Einstein and others.

From http://www.einsteinmontessori.com/ems.php?category=about_albert_einstein

Albert Einstein – He could not talk until the age of four. He did not learn to read until he was nine. His teachers considered him slow, unsociable and a dreamer. He failed the entrance examinations to college but finally passed them after an additional year of preparation.

From http://bodineschoolideaexchange.blogspot.com/2007/09/great-dyslexicalbert-einstein.html

There are also variants of this about many other historical figures.

Actually, Einstein’s biographers, e.g. Pais (1982), do not confirm these stories and his academic success leaves very little grounds for thinking he had any form of learning disorder, let alone one severe enough that it could be diagnosed posthumously.

Myth 3: Ancient Writers show that kids were always this badly behaved and that adults were always just as worried about behaviour.

Have you ever heard the following quotations? They all seek to indicate that any modern concern about the young is misplaced by suggesting that similar concerns have been expressed in other eras:

The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.

From Socrates (470BC-490BC) according to http://www.zerosharednickels.com/wordpress/?p=263 and http://onemansblog.com/2007/04/23/socrates-and-the-problem-with-children/

Or alternatively Plato (428/427 BC – 348/347 BC) according to http://beautifulbeacon.blogspot.com/2008/01/generational-divide.html

Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.

From Cicero (106BC-43BC) according to http://www.quotedb.com/quotes/662 and http://majikthise.typepad.com/majikthise_/2007/11/children-no-lon.html

I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words… When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly disrespectful and impatient of restraint.

From Hesiod (circa 700BC) according to http://thinkexist.com/quotation/i_see_no_hope_for_the_future_of_our_people_if/13669.html and http://www.laughlin.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123036815

The world is passing through troubled times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behaviour and dress.

Peter the Hermit (died 1115AD) according to http://www.lifeway.com/understanding/youth/article_temp.asp?ArticleID=3 or “Peter the Monk” [sic], according to http://rivergirlie.wordpress.com/2006/11/

What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?

Plato (428/427 BC – 348/347 BC) according to http://blogs.osltraining.co.uk/classroom_management/2007/12/what-is-happeni.html

Actually, a quick search will reveal that although these quotes appear many, many times in many, many places, you will soon notice that no source includes the text in the original language or a reference to any academic text where it can be found. All of them appear to be twentieth century inventions.


Pais, Abraham, Subtle is the Lord: The Science and Life of Albert Einstein, Oxford University Press, 1982


  1. just read,

  2. “Einstein was dyslexic” seems to be from people who promote dyslexia as a gift . Ron Davis comes to mind. How can dyslexia be a gift without having examples.

    Time and again I have listened to dyslexics who are afraid to do anything about their dyslexia because they are afraid of losing their gift.

    I vote adding ” Dyslexia is a gift” to the list . To be fair some dyslexics may be better at thinking outside the box. I read a study about why older people might be better at being wise and the result was that distractions sometimes resulted in better answers. I suspect that distractions resulting from dyslexia probably result in better problem solving outcomes some of the time for some dyslexics.

    Many sites also promote the idea that dyslexics are above average in intelligence, another myth, instead of the reality that the more intelligent dyslexics are just easier to identify and diagnose. Only looking for dyslexics that are smart because of the myth also is a factor.

    Dyslexia is a visual problem as a myth has been replaced by Dyslexia and vision are not related as another myth. The reality is that there is a small minority of dyslexics that have reading problems because of visual problems seeing words on the page in a normal manner. As I sell See Right Dyslexia Glasses from, http://www.dyslexiaglasses.com ,
    that remove the visual problems associated with visual dyslexia I find I have to comment against both myths all the time.

    I find that all the news articles about finding the cause of dyslexia could be considered the “single cause of dyslexia myth”. This could also be grouped by all the ” I am dyslexic, these are my dyslexic problems, therefore this is what dyslexia is type stories. The single cause theory also leads to the single intervention theory for dyslexia, think high cost with no guarantee intervention . Dore comes to mind . So does the Ron Davis dyslexics think in pictures theory and program.

    There is a new myth developing that fMRI tests can identify an individual as dyslexic. The reality is that fMRI studies all have the same result. Groups of dyslexics when compared to groups of non dyslexics show differences but with overlap. The overlapping results make identifying an individual as dyslexic or not impossible.

    More left handed and mostly boys are dyslexics are also common myths.

  3. Cheers for that.

    As a teacher I am constantly struggling to sort the realities of Special Needs from the rubbish that is distributed to staff. My favourite nonsense (and I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before) was being being give a note that told me a boy who would swear at teachers when reprimanded had “suspected Tourects [sic]”.

    It’s no wonder that a lot of teachers end up doubting if any of these conditions exist (which of course makes life even worse for those who genuinely suffer from them).

  4. And yet, Mr Hayes, in all my years of teaching, half of it in SEN, I’ve never met a girl with dyslexia.

    Still I take your point and would like to add “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” to the list of modern myths. A fish has no use whatever for a machine it has not the limbs to operate, but I haven’t yet found an alternative to a man if I need a good seeing to.

  5. Frankly, Lily, that’s too much information.

  6. We were shown some of the examples of myth 3 early on in PGCE this year, so I’m interested to read your comments… may suggest to my tutors that they need to cite references more thoroughly! I have read more reliable examples from the 20th century, but it’s still difficult to compare.
    Re myth 1 – women teachers did have to resign once married until sometime in the 20th century (e.g., my gran). I think that’s why we are called ‘miss’!

  7. Myth three was the only one that I didn’t originally encounter when training. I guess the academic standards haven’t improved.

    Thinking about it I did once meet an elderly ex-teacher who told me exactly what you said about women teacher retiring.

    With regard to examples of people complaining about “the youth of today, there are examples of badly behaved young people from many eras, (including in the Old Testament). But the spreaders of the myth want to suggest it was widely said in all eras, and that it was a general whinge rather than people commenting on particular incidents.

  8. I’ve collected a whole page page of ‘dyslexia’ myths.
    When you’ve got a minute or two, do have a read:

  9. Two things:

    1. Myth three is actually on our office wall. Interestingly it’s slightly different the above, indicating that it is not in the original text.

    2. I love all the dyslexic stuff SEN send us and the way people talk about it. I like to let them spout their mouths off about how it’s such a crippling disability and you constantly get told your thick by teachers. I then proceed to tell them that I was diagnosed with dyslexia about 4 years ago and I think it has had very little effect on my career, education etc. I probably make slightly more spelling mistakes than most, so I check my work more thoroughly, I have difficulty reading aloud and pronouncing some words and I find reading foreign language very difficult, so I just allow myself a bit more time to decode things. I am crap at left and right (my driving test was fun) so I don’t give directions and or ask for them.

    Whenever a student tells me they are dyslexic I tell them I don’t care, it just tough. You just make the best of what you’ve got. People make so many excuses for people with dyslexia, which in turn just gives them excuses to get out of doing things.

    As for diagnosing dyslexia that is the biggest farce. They always ask you if you have trouble spelling, reading etc. I always say trouble compared to who? The world’s best speller? Little Johnny who can’t spell his own name. They seem to forget that its always been like that so it just normal for me.

    Ultimately I urge you to be harsh on dyslexics, most of them are just lazy or they are not dyslexic and just thick and want an excuse for being thick or a combination of both. End of the day they have to learn to just get on with things, when you get to work you can’t just refuse to do things because your dyslexic.

  10. Greeting from the Antipodes, OldAndrew.

    A little bit off topic for this post, but probably on topic for the blog, but I was wondering if you read D-Edreckoning at all – Ken DeRosa has an interesting post up currently on his position on educational failure – and the relationship to misbehaviour/ disruption –


    I’d be interested in your take – and to see if you agree more with Ken DeRosa than the Josephine of Ship of Fools…

  11. A little bit off topic for this post, but probably on topic for the blog

    That’s what I set up the Battleground Forum for really, but I’ll have a look anyway.

  12. I have to say I’m left doubting his claim about the empirical evidence of improving SES (and worried that in the US SES is actually a proxy for race).

    But more seriously he seems to suggest that the problem is that the education provided to the poor is too middle class. My view is that the education provided to the poor isn’t middle class enough. I’m all for “compensatory” education but it must be based on wiping out the “no aspirations” culture, not institutionalising it.

  13. Ahhhh well a classics teacher many years ago showed us, her students, the Socrates quotation from source 3 and I’m sure it had come from some classics reader. I think this is a topic needing further investigation!

  14. We can be absolutely certain it didn’t come from Socrates as, famously, he left no written works.

    (Unless they meant the footballer.)

  15. Fantastic to see the thrid myth. I remember being taught that in RE at school in the 1990s. It was in a text book as being someone from Ancient Greece or Rome. Sadly I can’t remember to whom it was attributed. I remember tryign to find it to use later in life and being very frustrated that I couldn’t. I’m rather glad I didn’t now as it would have been inaccurate.

  16. I second that Sarah B, I’m an RE teacher and I think I used that text book in my last school – can’t remember that it was credited, do remember clarifying oldandrew’s point that it couldn’t be an original writing of Socrates

  17. This is pretty much the same as Flat Earth Mythology, where “facts” are used to back up spurious reasoning.


  18. One of my preoccupations recently has been stories like that Flat Earth myth where something is published in the 19th century, a time where the distinction between research and opinion were somewhat fuzzy, repeated here and there, and finally given a whole new lease of life on the internet. Most of the stories, like the one you mentioned, seem to be myths about how primitive and superstitious people were compared with the enlightened and rational scientists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, eg. claims that the use of anasthesia in childbirth ws widely opposed by religious groups, or a claim that Giordano Bruno was executed for saying the earth went around the Sun. (The first of these examples has apparently been taught in history lessons, the second of these I read in a perfectly mainstream book about Action Research in education.)

  19. I was told myth 3 sometime, but the first one was given us on the PGCE course as fact, and was printed in the NUT handbook. I think.
    Have to say about dyslexia – intelligent dyslexics find other ways around problems then come a cropper in year 10 [like my daughter] or even later [friend I met at university] and the diagnosis comes as a huge relief. Like discovering you’re short sighted [me at 12] and realising that’s why everything is such a goddamn struggle. Anxious kids cover the difficulties and life can get very difficult. I’m not sure how severe Chenneth’s dyslexia is, but it’s probably relative to all sorts of other factors, including self-esteem and other expectations.
    I love the Blog, always makes me laugh. And makes me glad I teach in Special Ed, with sensible back up.

  20. Regarding the alleged ancient writers decrying the youth of today. I hadn’t realised that those quotes are fakes. My answer has always been “Yes and those civilisations collapsed.”

  21. I’ve now found another dubious quotation (this time supposedly from Livy) here:


  22. Time to update the Dyslexia Myths weblink given above:

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