Monday, June 9, 2014

Things to Keep in Mind

In her high-school career, my daughter input 3,473 terms into the flashcard website Quizlet.

She was memorizing facts for school.

She was quizzed on: Elements and their symbols. Rocks and their parent rocks. (Limestone becomes marble but sandstone becomes quartzite.) Supreme Court cases. (I actually like this one; my daughter will never have the brain fart Sarah Palin did.) Even Popes and the titles of their encyclicals, in Latin. (Catholic school.)

My son composed one of the most disturbing Quizlet sets imaginable: early-Christian martyrs and how they died. (This one was flayed, that one was pressed, that one had her breasts cut off.)
What good is all this memorizing?

Some say memorizing facts for math, like they did back in the day, is crucial. But my high-school math teacher told us never to memorize things you can look up. (I didn’t realize then that he was quoting Einstein.) He focused on getting us to use facts repeatedly; when we did that, we memorized them without trying.
Many teachers have their students make a “cheat sheet” to use during tests. That is a valuable learning tool: the student has to think about what is important enough to include, rather than just cramming.

Things learned by rote memorization, a/k/a cramming when it’s done in a hurry, don’t stick.
And as this teacher says, memorizing isn’t understanding.

According to my Google search, many pro-memorization folks aren’t talking about memorizing facts at all, but about memorizing poems. As someone who can still remember the poems I memorized in high school and who continued to memorize poems, voluntarily, as a pretentious English major, I agree that this kind of memorization allows you to experience the interlockings of words and rhythms in a way you never could just reading.
But, other than that, memorization is overrated.