Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Rote Memory and Education

Your World

Your world is as big as you make it
I know, for I used to abide
In the narrowest nest in a corner
My wings pressing close to my side

But I sighted the distant horizon
Where the sky-line encircled the sea
And I throbbed with a burning desire
To travel this immensity.

I battered the cordons around me
And cradled my wings on the breeze
Then soared to the uttermost reaches
with rapture, with power, with ease!

by Georgia Douglas

Fly bird
Image from powerplant via Flickr

This is a poem I memorized in middle school. We had an old-fashioned teacher who made us memorize poems and rules of grammar. In elementary school, I had math teachers (and a mother) who made us memorize our times tables. To this day, I can do long division in my head, use object pronouns correctly, and appreciate the poetry of Psalm 23 more than the other Psalms.

Memorization didn't seem like a waste of time. I knew the things I memorized had value and, if nothing else, stretched my mind to do more than I thought it could. Memorization was a challenge that promised mastery of new material. My teachers also explained the underlying concepts, but they saw value in rote memory. I know many educators, teachers and parents alike, shy away from memorization and consider it useless. Personally, I'm excited about helping Peter memorize poems and facts and whatever else he can use.

After all, your world is as big as you make it.


  1. Memory work is hard, but it's good brain exercise. Our kids receive a sense of accomplishment afterwards, and have a reference point for later in life when they have to memorize for their job. My daughter wants to be a doctor, and I remind her that she will need to memorize a lot of facts during her career. She might as well start now with second grade math and spelling facts! :)

    1. Yes indeed! And as my mom pointed out, memorizing the alphabet makes it easier to use a dictionary. :-)