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30 October 2009

Article: In Defense of Memorization

The music of the verse was as entrancing to [my daughter] as to any grown-up. Without knowing it, a child who has learned a scrap of verse has been drawn into the civilizing interplay of music and language, rhythm and sound, melody and words—just as educational theory as far back as ancient Greece posits, according to Werner Jaeger in his classic account of Greek education, Paideia.

From The Cat in the Hat on up, verse teaches children something about the patterns and relationships that bind together the words of which it is composed. Poetry sets up an abstract system of order and harmony; the rhythm and the rhyme scheme are logical structures that a child can comprehend even before he understands the words themselves, just as he can grasp the rhythmic and harmonic relations of a piece of music.

What the child discovers, in other words, is not only aesthetically pleasing, but important to cognitive development. Classic verse teaches children an enormous amount about order, measure, proportion, correspondence, balance, symmetry, agreement, temporal relation (tense), and contingent possibility (mood). Mastering these concepts involves the most fundamental kind of learning, for these are the basic categories of thought and the framework in which we organize sensory experience. Kids need to become familiar with them not only through exercises in recitation and memorization, but also, as they proceed to the later grades, by construing, analyzing, and diagramming particular verses. In The Idea of a University, John Henry Newman called this close study of language “a discipline in accuracy of mind,” a “first step in intellectual training” that impresses on young minds notions of “method, order, principle, and system; of rule and exception, of richness and harmony.” And of course memorization is a kind of exercise that strengthens the powers of the mind, just as physical exercise strengthens those of the body.


This article is beautifully written, and I love what they have to say. I can say that the little bit of memory work Monkey has done has been surprisingly successful - he knows bits of "Who Has Seen the Wind" after only a few readings, and he's doing well with the scripture memorization we ask him to do, which seems like a lot of memorizing for such a little guy! For me, I was just amazed when I started doing memory work: not only was I able to memorize, but it made my brain work better all the time, I remembered more of everything, not just the verses that I had set myself to remember. No more Mommy-brain for me! My memory box takes care of that for me.


Jessica said...

Interesting article. I wonder how these ideas play out with one who is deaf (as my daughter is). We are attempting to memorize The Pledge of Allegiance right now. And, I would love for her to memorize the Articles of Faith.

P.S. Thank you for your canning comments on my blog. I will be sure to use the hot water bath in the future. :)

Ritsumei said...

Hello! I'm so glad that you found my comments useful: I always feel a little nervous saying things, but it would be awful to find someday that something bad happened that would have been prevented had I mentioned canning safety!

I would guess that memorizing would work just fine with a deaf child. Is ASL her first language? I studied with an interpreter in high school, and it seems like she told me that some Deaf kids in Hearing families have a hard time fully learning a language, and this can cause problems for them in all sorts of ways. I would think that it would be useful for the same reasons as for hearing children, plus more: if you learn it in ASL then it's all the good things the article talks about, in what I would guess is her native language. If you learn it in signed/written English then you're getting those benefits in a second language... all I see is win-win scenarios for memorizing with a Deaf child! Is there a sign edition of the Doctrine and Covenants? You could get the "proper" way to sign it from there and have her memorize that. Good luck!


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