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Monday, May 1. 2017
Children Have Amazing Powers of Memorization… So Why Aren’t Schools Using Them?
Memorization was a core discipline when I was a lad. In many cases, a challenging game. Now it is disparaged as "rote learning." Discuss.
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There was a fad that may still be the conventional wisdom among education majors summed up in a derogatory phrase, "drill and kill." The thinking goes that drilling (i.e. memorization) kills a love of learning. Everything is supposed to be discovered.
When my now adult daughter was in third grade her teacher subscribed to this philosophy. My daughter complained about not being able to pass the timed multiplication quizzes because she could not complete them in time though she got every answer correct. When asked, she informed us that she had never seen a multiplication table. We then had a conference with the teacher who told us that she never had the students memorize multiplication facts because it would kill their love of learning! I let her know that she was absolutely wrong and then spent the next week drilling my daughter on multiplication facts up to 12 * 12 and gave her a table to work with. Within a week she had it completely memorized and could pass all the quizzes.
I recently had to perform a function at an event where memorization was deemed 'required'. Not really, it was just preferred. However, the person who normally performed this function, and I, sat down to discuss my filling in for him.
He rattled off his lines in a matter of minutes. I was impressed. But then again, he did this 10-15 times a year over the last 10 years. He had the background and experience. I was just filling in. They were OK with me using crib sheets.
I tried VERY, VERY hard to learn the lines. I repeated them at home, on the subway, anywhere I could. Out of 7 paragraphs, I got 2 of them down cold in 2 weeks. I just couldn't absorb the rest.
But I was 52 years old at the time. When I was 22, I memorized "Jabberwocky" so I could recite it to my friends at the final night at our favorite pub (named, of course, Jabberwocky). It took me about 2 days to memorize it, and I still remember a good portion of it.
I think having rhyme helped, because when you forget a portion of a standard speech, you have nothing to work off of, whereas a rhyme allows you to think of what sounds similar, and adds context.
But "Jabberwocky" is also a lot of nonsense words, so maybe I'm just making that up.
Point is, memorization is meaningful. To this day, I can still do my times tables 1 through 10. Saves me tons of time when I'm doing rapid calculations. None of the kids in my office can do math in their head, I can because I memorized all the tricks when I was young.
Rote memory has its place. Do I need to know what 1066 means? Probably not. But it's pretty cool that I do know, and it adds context when I'm trying to piece together strands of history.
The education establishment is a bureaucracy and as Robert Conquest noted:
"The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies."
We need to change the official goals of the education bureaucracy to be "The Enstupidation of Children" so the bureaucrats will then struggle to educate the kids to spite the rest of us.
Same with the times tables in math. It would kill their imagination, and 12X12 needs a good of imagination.
If a teacher is in the lower percentiles of ability, and has not bothered to memorize anything themselves, they will not want to teach memorization. Because if they do, their students will be able to do what they can't do and can't teach.
I do wonder if Martin is right, if not in an obvious way, at least in the more subtle "but I'm the teacher, and I know more, and I'm not comfortable with so much memorization myself so I suspect it's not important." As it is hard and uncomfortable for many of the students as well, it only reinforces that belief. It's a fight, it's a trial - better to spend the energy other places.
Overlooked is the fact that memorization to the point of mastery is actually fun for children. They love it. They do it on outside activities all the time: Dance steps, song lyrics, commercials, movie scripts. It's incomplete memorization that they hate, as do we all. Missing that point means that teachers stop when only the few have memorised and are at rest. The others are miserable and don't want to try again. I get it that it can be very difficult for some children. Yet a few things memorised well will give satisfaction, while many things memorised incompletely will leave a bad taste in the mouth.
Then also, children having actual data at their command allows them to think for themselves. Not so much the teachers, but the teachers behind the teachers, would rather give them the chosen narrative without such interference.
Ah yes, I remember well the old flash cards. Things gone never to be seen again. Wonder what the future holds for this next generation. These current educators have done them no favors, but as long as they all feel good who cares , right? Soooo...wrong.
The reason rote memorization is no longer used is because it bores the so called "teacher" trying to use it. Curriculum is designed to keep the low end idiot using it amused and interested while they try to "teach".
Project Follow Through...the Education mafia already knows what works and refuses to implement it.
The last thing any of them want is what they profess to want to achieve.
Memorization is of value, but it should be for topping up the knowledge not the go-to for mindless "learning" as many teachers devolve to.
The problem is not memorization, the problem is lazy, inept teachers who will pervert any method and exploit any technique.
It only takes one group of teachers miss or ignore the reasoning and make it rote dogma to ruin any good method of teaching by blinding following it.
The student has accomplished much when he has discovered some of the closer relations that a topic bears to life; when he has supplemented the thought of the author; when he has determined the relative importance of different parts and given them a corresponding organization; when he has passed judgement on their soundness and general worth; and when, finally, he has gone through whatever drill is necessary to fix the ideas firmly in his memory. Is he then through with a topic, or is more work to be done?
The factors of studying:
1. Provision for Specific Purposes
2. The Supplementing of Thought
3. The Organization of Ideas
4. Judging the Soundness and General Worth of Statements
6. The Using of Ideas
7. Provision for a Tentative rather than a Fixed Attitude toward Knowledge
8. Provision for Individuality
--How to Study and Teaching How to Study (1909) by F. M. McMurry, Professor of Elementary Education, Teachers College, Columbia University
My 2 year old grandson has several of his books memorized...of course they are the ones we read repeatedly. But they are not just simple one and two word sentences. His favorite--about construction equipment-- has at least 10 lines/sentences on each page and if you get to the end of a sentence and pause, he completes the sentence. so almost everything a 2 year old does is from memory so explain why this is not a good thing to continue later on. I think #8 Robert Sendler is spot on.
Most teachers I know are good, and the ones I observe from more distance seem fine as well. I don't see the classroom teacher as the problem in most districts. They have been taught that certain things work which aren't any better (or worse) than the old ways. They have a host of external requirements in record-keeping and proofs of compliance with government regulations. They often are not allowed to say the obvious. In the upper grades, especially in Humanities, they do get into the same agenda-driven foolishness we see in colleges.
There are some terrible teachers and terrible schools. There are pointless or pernicious exercises even in good schools. That has been true since we have had schools. But for 70% of districts or more, they are fine. They are in fact more than fine, because they outscore the world, despite what you read. Even though I left liberalism decades ago, conservative grousing about education, without a command of the facts, has done much to keep me from embracing the movement.
Schools were worse years ago, not better. I've put forward the reasons a dozen times but people just don't want to hear it. Myths die hard.
When it comes to arithmetic, memorization allows the development of rapid estimation when problem solving, an extremely important skill in any field.