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?

2 thoughts on “Four score and seven years ago… Memorization in School

  1. I think memorization is a skill that develops focus, enhances skills in pronunciation and public speaking, and exercises certain centers of the brain. Just as sit ups aren’t actually a sport but they contribute to the core strength that improves results in pretty much every sport, memorization develops strengths that apply to various intellectual areas. Kids can memorize anything though, it doesn’t have to be academic. I went to Catholic French school so I had memorized the Our Father and the Hail Mary in French and English by the time I was in grade one, but kids can also memorize all the members of their favorite sports team, a speech from a movie they love (Neville’s speech in Harry Potter 7.2 for example), a hip hop song. When I went to school in NZ we had a class called “Speech” and this is where memorization took place, not in Socials or English (or religion)

  2. Great insights, Gabrielle. Howard Gardner talks about memorization as a Linguistic Intelligence but I think that the presentation of the memorized piece has to do with Interpersonal Intelligence. That is, when we recite, we continue an oral tradition and connect with other humans past and present. We pass on information, religion, art, history and entertainment. I understand that many who follow Islam memorize large portions of the Koran. There are some cultures or subsets of cultures who cannot read and still have an active oral tradition. Thanks so much for your comment. I hope you’ll “follow” Creative Chaos.

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