National Dunce Day is celebrated on November 8 every year. The day commemorates the death anniversary of the Scottish philosopher, John Duns Scotus. His views ranged from brilliant to downright laughable. Duns Scotus believed that cone-shaped hats increased learning potential. He was of the opinion that knowledge would flow from the point of the cap, down, and into the head of the wearer, making that person smarter. This observation, of course, makes no sense and today, a person wearing a dunce cap is thought to be, well, a dunce. There was a positive side to his use of dunce caps — it motivated the wearer to learn more so they could be rid of the cap.
History of National Dunce Day
Not much is known about why or when the first National Dunce Day was observed. Today, the holiday is observed as a way to promote learning and unearthing the real reason behind the much-maligned word “dunce”.
John Duns Scotus, also known as Duns Scotus, was a Scottish Catholic priest and Franciscan friar, university professor, philosopher, and theologian. He was born in 1265 or 1266 and passed away unexpectedly on November 8, 1308. The story about Duns Scotus being buried alive, in the absence of his servant who alone knew of his susceptibility to comas, is probably a myth. National Dunce Day is observed on his death anniversary.
He is one of the four most important philosopher-theologians of Western Europe in the High Middle Ages, along with Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, and William of Ockham. Duns Scotus made a considerable impact on both Catholic and secular thought. He is best known for his doctrines on the “univocity of being”, which argues that existence is the most abstract concept we have and this holds true for everything that exists. He proposed formal distinction — a way to distinguish between different aspects of the same thing — and the idea of haecceity, or the property that’s supposed to be in each individual thing that makes it so unique. Duns Scotus also developed a complex argument for the existence of God and argued for the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Many centuries after his death, Duns Scotus was given the scholastic accolade Doctor Subtilis (“the Subtle Doctor”) for his convincing and subtle manner of thought. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1993. Not much is known about Duns Scotus outside of his work.
National Dunce Day timeline
Duns Scotus attains ordination to the priesthood at St. Andrew's in Northampton, England.
Duns Scotus visits Oxford for the hearing of confessions.
He begins lecturing on Peter Lombard's “Sentences” at the University of Paris.
He passes away unexpectedly in Cologne, Germany.
National Dunce Day FAQs
Is ‘dunce’ a bad word?
‘Dunce’ is a mild insult in English meaning a person who is slow at learning or stupid.
Are dunce caps illegal?
As modern conceptions of classroom etiquette and punishments that didn’t humiliate and traumatize students evolved, the use of the dunce cap was phased out and banned in most Western schools.
What is a dunce cap for?
A dunce cap is a conical cap formerly used as a punishment for slow learners at school.
National Dunce Day Activities
Wear the dunce cap
National Dunce Day is the perfect opportunity to don the dunce cap. Make dunce caps for yourself and your friends to celebrate the day.
Learn something new
John Duns Scotus was a multifaceted scholar. Use this day as an opportunity to learn a new skill. Try learning a new language, recipe, or play a new sport.
Visit a library
Since National Dunce Day has so much to do with learning (and quickly at that), take some time off your day to visit a library. Browse through the books and borrow your favorite titles.
5 Facts About Oxford That Will Blow Your Mind
Female students are relatively new here
No female students were allowed until 1878.
Oxford was not bombed during WWII
This was because Hitler wanted to use the city as a capital after conquering England.
Radiohead was formed at Oxford
Radiohead, the rock band, was formed while the members were attending the Abingdon School in Oxford.
It used to be the capital of England
Oxford was the capital of England during the Civil War.
It has produced many authors
Oxford has more published authors per square mile than any other place else in the world.
Why We Love National Dunce Day
It’s a time to learn something new
John Duns Scotus was a well-known scholar whose work continues to be relevant, even today. National Dunce Day encourages learning of all kinds.
It is historically significant
The day celebrates the contributions of a scholar in virtually every field. Duns Scotus was known for his work in theology, philosophy, and metaphysics among others. It is a great day to acknowledge man’s historical quest for knowledge.
A day to dismantle false information
The word “dunce” has negative connotations and the “dunce cap” is the butt of one too many jokes. Take this day as an opportunity to tell people how the word really came to be and also try to dismantle misinformation.
National Dunce Day dates