Should Your Child Learn Roman Numerals?

First it was home ec. Then it was cursive writing. Now, Roman numerals might be the odd subject out in some schools across the nation. Are our kids being deprived, or does knowledge of Roman numerals really matter anymore?

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studying roman numerals

A 'Minor Topic'

In ancient Rome, students spent long days at school studying grammar, literature, writing and Roman numerals. In many respects, modern students are much the same...except for the last part.

'Roman numerals are a minor topic' in elementary school, Jeanine Brownell, assistant director of programming for the early mathematics development program at Chicago's Erickson Institute, told The Associated Press in January 2012.

But according to several online forums, including and, Roman numerals are still being taught to some degree in many schools, even if they are not part of the standard curriculum.

In some schools, they might be taught in math class; in others, history class, Latin or social studies. Thus, it doesn't seem as if there are any 'rules' when it comes to teaching Roman numerals. It does appear, however, that many students, if not in elementary then at least by high school, are receiving some sort of instruction about them.

One question that seems to come up time and again is: Do kids need to learn Roman numerals? For the most part, educators and parents seemed mixed on the subject. On the one hand, words like 'stupid' and 'pointless' are used; on the other, you will hear some say that learning Roman numerals is 'useful' and 'fun'.

Beyond the Basics

Some might think that Roman numerals are outdated, but look around: among other things, they're used to indicate Super Bowls, mark chapter headings in books and outline research papers. Roman numerals even appear on Big Ben's clock in London.

So maybe kids don't need to know that Roman numerals are a real numbering system, or that it's the first system that used subtractive tallying (in some cases, adding a letter to a Roman numeral will result in subtracting rather than adding value). But knowing the basics can be useful.

And for the most part, the schools that do spend time on Roman numerals are doing just that: covering the basics. But as the Super Bowl edges closer to the 50-year mark, the Roman numerals representing the number might look 'kind of mysterious', says Gerard Michon of

So, there might come a time when the basics just won't cut it. And as this generation gets older, say, in their XL's, how will they teach their own X-year-olds about Roman numerals if they haven't been adequately taught themselves?

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