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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Having young children memorize facts detrimental to their educational growth?

Having young children memorize facts detrimental to their educational growth?

You would think the answer would be an obvious “yes”, but tragically that in not the case.
One of my professors got indignant. "That's just so sad!" she said, "I would never make my kids memorize facts. That is so useless -- especially since now you can look the facts up somewhere, in a book, online, or something. Memorization of knowledge is a worthless education tool."

This is a common misconception.

In Plato's Phaedrus, Socrates tells a story about the invention of writing, in which the Egyptian god Thoth shows his written characters to another god, Ammon, who rebukes him: "This discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember themselves."

Before the invention of radio, television, video games and the internet philosophers and educators were worried about the mind losing its ability. Obviously the written word would eventually allow everyone to be educated and educators listened to the concern of Socrates and Plato and memorization was an important part of that education. That is until modern history and education methods found it boring and tedious and it is no longer an important part of being human. How much more do we need to focus on memorization today!

Have you ever been paying a bill and the cashier cannot figure out your change? They never memorized the grammar of adding and subtracting. Can an education system be considered successful if a 15-16 year old (minimum age of most state for working) cannot do math they should have learned in elementary school? Yet this memorization is consider not helpful for the student when they get to the real world.

If you ever have played a sport or read about an exceptional athlete you have heard the term muscle memory. Did the coach show you how to do a motion properly (swinging a tennis racket, golf club, bat) and you absorbed that into your muscle and did it correct the first time and every time after that? Of course that did not happen. You practiced, practiced, practiced until it was engrained in your body and you still occasionally fail. Yet we expect our student to learn how to do reading, writing and arithmetic without memorizing the rules and motions of the subject.
Clearly modern education methods of “how do you feel” and “what are you experiencing” questions and methods are not working. Our students are falling behind other countries, other countries who still require memorization. Sure our students feel good about themselves and have a high confidence, unfortunately that confidence and self esteem has not translated into actual learning.

Classical Education requires memorization of grammar as the foundation of learning. A house built without a foundation blows away in the lightest of wind and our students are being blown away by global competition. More and longer education as Arne Duncan is purposing may be helpful, but without anchoring knowledge into our student it will be useless and expensive.

“1st come Augie dog, then the Flintstone Kids, inspector Gadget and Popeye too owe doo daw day” I still know the morning cartoon lineup from when I was a little kid, because I heard it every Saturday morning. Too bad I did not put memorization of important things to the forefront of my education. Why did I memorize it, because I heard it over and over again and it was to a catchy song. Memorization does not have to be boring as many think, we just need to know how to make it fun.

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