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Monday, March 7, 2011


I think people who disparage rote memorization in order to promote critical thinking are not very good at critical thinking themselves. I've memorized hundreds of poems, though I could only recite 50 for you on the spot. "Repetition is the mother of learning" (someone said) and doing something for the nth time helps you get ever deeper into the groove. Little babies and musicians know this.

The aim should be a kind of effortless manipulation of the material. You can only really think if you have something to think about. Suppose I'm dealing with a very complex set of relationships. It helps if I actually know the material so well that I don't have to look at every text again in order to formulate conclusions. We can't read an entire novel all at once, so adept scholars read it and remember it in very concrete detail.

Of course what students learn for a test they might forget the next day. What is remembered is what is meaningful, what actually forms a part of one's permanent mental habitus.

So what I hate is not rote memorization but people who use the word rote in a meaningless and unthinking way.

1 comment:

Clarissa said...

When I was growing up, my English teacher made us memorize a lot of very lengthy texts in English. Today, I find it hard to believe that I managed to retain such huge chunks of information.

I think my teacher's method actually worked because my English is pretty good. :-)