Four score and seven years ago… Memorization in School

Son #1 has to memorize Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address for Social Studies class.

He doesn’t want to. Actually, he’s already memorized paragraphs one and two, it is three that is the doozy.

“Why do I have to memorize this?” he says. “I could understand if I had to explain the meaning of the speech or write an essay on it’s effects on the Civil War. Why memorization?”

I can understand his concern and applaud his assignment suggestions which encourage critical thinking.

I’ll admit that as a teacher I’ve asked children to memorize poetry, or the preamble to the US Constitution. I’m a big fan of Poetry Outloud and part of my motivation (for mandatory student memorization) comes from a romantic notion planted by the Dead Poet’s Society movie (that’s a link to video BTW). I imagine my students theatrically presenting literary moments in history. But there is more. As they memorize, I hope that they internalize the rhythms of the language and the meaning of the piece. It’s true, that in these situations, I spend quite a bit of time dissecting what ever needed to be memorized.

What do you think? Memorization yes or no? Is there something you had to memorize in Middle School that you still know?