Ten things you learnt at school which are no longer true

Our knowledge of the world is constantly evolving, and as such, some of the things which were once taught in schools are no longer true.


Remember when Pluto was declassified as a planet and you began to doubt everything your teachers had ever told you? Turns out, that was just the start.


From science and history to English grammar, Oxford Home Schooling has compiled a list of 10 ‘facts’ which you may have heard in the classroom but are now considered outdated.


1) Diamond is the hardest material

Correction: There are six materials on earth which are harder than diamond


It was once taught that diamond is the toughest substance on the planet, but, while it remains the most scratch-resistant, there are actually six materials now known to be harder. These include wurtzide boron nitride – a crystal lattice formed during volcanic eruptions, which is 18% harder than diamond – and graphene – a carbon lattice that is only one atom wide but is the strongest material we know of, in proportion to its thickness[1].


2) Water can only be found on Earth

Correction: There is water in multiple places in our solar system


We used to think that earth was the only place where water can be found, but NASA has since proved its presence on some of our galactic neighbours. In 2015, it confirmed water flows intermittently on Mars and then, later that year, discovered an ocean beneath the icy crust of Saturn’s moon Enceladus[2]. Many suspect that there’s also an ocean on Jupiter’s moon Europa.


3) King Tutankhamun was murdered

Correction: He either died from a chariot crash or from genetic impairments


Some schools used to teach that King Tutankhamun of Ancient Egypt was murdered when someone struck him on the head. However, a 2014 BBC documentary suggested that he died in a chariot crash that ultimately ended in an infection and blood poisoning. Around the same time, a virtual autopsy of the pharaoh’s body indicates he may have died because of genetic impairments, with evidence suggesting his parents were siblings[3].


4) You can’t split an infinitive

Correction: It’s now acceptable


Star Trek’s famous line “to boldly go where no-one has gone before” annoyed a lot of hard-line grammatists by breaking a long-standing rule of the English language – that the infinitive form of a verb (I.e. to go) should not be split. However, researchers at Lancaster University and Cambridge University Press found that split infinitives are now almost three times as common now as they were in the 1990s[4], and as language keeps evolving, most linguists now consider them acceptable.


5) There are three states of matter – solid, liquid and gas

Correction: There are at least five


One of the fundamentals of chemistry, most school students were told that there are three states of matter – solid, liquid and gas. However, scientists now know of a fourth natural state, plasma, which despite not being common on earth, is thought to be the most prominent form in the universe. There’s also a fifth state, the Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC), where molecular motion almost stops completely. BECs were discovered in 1995, but so far have only been found in laboratories[5].


6) Neanderthals were not very intelligent

Correction: They were skilled hunters with advanced tools



Many people used to believe that Neanderthals died out largely because they were less intelligent than Homo sapiens, but recent studies suggest they had similar cognitive abilities and were actually quite skilled hunters[6]. New archaeological evidence shows they used relatively advanced tools and were also better at socialising than once thought.


7) The universe is 13.7 billion years old

Correction: It’s actually 100 million years older



Science lessons used to teach that the universe is 13.7 billion years old, but it turns out we were out by around 100 million years. The European Space Agency’s Planck mission scanned the sky for radio and microwaves and in 2013 concluded that previous estimates were slightly short – the universe is actually 13.82 billion years old[7].


8) No-one knows where Richard III’s body is

Correction: He was buried under a car park in Leicester



For over 500 years, historians and archaeologists had been searching for the body of King Richard III, who died from injuries sustained in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. The long mystery was solved in 2013 when researchers from the University of Leicester announced that they’d discovered the controversial monarch’s remains beneath a car park in the city[8].


9) Nothing can travel faster than light

Correction: Things can move faster than light under the right conditions



It’s still true that nothing can travel faster than light in a vacuum or in similar conditions in space. However, scientists have managed to slow light down by either trapping it inside waveguides made with photonic crystals or inside ultracold atom clouds. This can reduce the speed of light from around 300,000km per second to near zero, so lots of things could outpace it[9].


10) We have five senses

Correction: We have way more than five



The five main senses – touch, taste, sight, hearing and smell – are still our most fundamental, but we also have lots of other mechanisms helping us to make sense of the world. For example, we have proprioception – a sense of space. This is how our brain understands where we are in relation to other things. We also have others, such as neuron sensors, which help to control balance[10].



Greg Smith, Head of Operations at Oxford Home Schooling, said: “Every year in every subject, experts are constantly learning and updating our knowledge. This means that some things which were once taught at school now don’t tell the whole story, or have even been proved to be wrong!


“This can only be a good thing, however, as it shows that we are developing a greater understanding of our world.”


For more ‘facts’ you learnt in school which are no longer true, visit: https://www.oxfordhomeschooling.co.uk/blog/15-facts-you-learnt-at-school-that-arent-true-any-more/