G-d, I remember as a kid in school having to memorize everything for every class–that was the humdrum life for a schoolchild.
Vocabulary words, grammar rules, multiplication tables, algebraic and geometric equations, scientific formulas, historical events, famous quotes, states and capitals, presidents, QWERTY keys, and more.
It was stuff it in, spit it out, and basically forget it.
This seemed the only way to make room for ever more things to memorize and test out.
In a way, you really had to memorize everything, because going to a reference library and having to look up on the stacks of endless shelves or microfiche machines was a pain in the you know what.
Alternatively, the home dictionary, theasarus, and encyclopeda were indispensible, but limited, slow, dated, and annoying.
But as the universe of knowledge exploded, became ever more specialized, and the Internet was born, looking something up was a cinch and often necessary.
All of a sudden, memorization was out and critical thinking was in.
That’s a good thing, especially if you don’t want people who are simple repositories of stale information, but rather those who can question, analyze, and solve problems.
Albert Einstein said, “Never memorize something that you can look up.”
But an interesting editorial in the Wall Street Journal by an old school teacher questions that logic.
David Bonagura Jr. proposes that critical thinking and analysis “is impossible without first acquiring rock-solid knowledge of the foundational elements upon which the pyramid of cognition rests.”
He says, “Memorization is the most effective means to build that foundation.”
As a kid, I hated memorization and thought it was a waste of time, but looking back I find that more things stayed in that little head of mine than I had thought.
I find myself relying on those foundations everyday…in writing, speaking, calculating, and even remembering a important story, principle, saying or even song lyrics.
These come out in my work–things that I thought were long lost and forgotten, but are part of my thinking, skills, and truly create a foundation for me to analyze situations and solve problems.
In fact, I wish I knew more and retained it all, but short-term memory be damned.
We can’t depend on the Internet for all the answers–in fact, someday, it may not be there working for us all, when we need it.
We must have core knowledge that is vital for life and survival and these are slowly being lost and eroded as we depend on the Internet to be our alternate brains.
No, memorizing for memorization’s sake is a waste of time, but building a foundation of critical skills has merits.
Who decides what is critical and worthwhile is a whole other matter to address.
And are we building human automatons full of worthless information that is no longer relevant to today’s lifestyles and problems or are we teaching what’s really important and useful to the human psche, soul, and evolution.
Creativity, critical thinking, and self-expression are vital skills to our ability to solve problems, but these can’t exist in a vacuum of valuable brain matter and content.
It’s great to have a readily available reference of world information at the tips of our fingertips online, but unless you want to sound (and act) like an idiot, you better actually know something too. 😉
(Source Photo: here with attribution to Chapendra)