City Journal, comes this:
In Defense of MemorizationToday's public-school educators, of course, aren't allowed to teach the true ideals of our civilization. (MLK is okay, but GW and TJ were just slave-owning honkies.) Perhaps those so-called educators would be willing to allow their students to memorize comic books. That might be better than nothing.
Michael Knox Beran
If there’s one thing progressive educators don’t like it’s rote learning. As a result, we now have several generations of Americans who’ve never memorized much of anything. Even highly educated people in their thirties and forties are often unable to recite half a dozen lines of classic poetry or prose.
Yet it wasn’t so long ago that kids in public schools from Boston to San Francisco committed poems like Shelley’s “To a Skylark” and Tennyson’s “Ulysses” to memory. They declaimed passages from Shakespeare and Wordsworth, the Psalms and the Declaration of Independence. Even in the earliest grades they got by heart snippets of “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” or “Abou Ben Adhem.” By 1970, however, this tradition was largely dead.
Should we care? Aren’t exercises in memorizing and reciting poetry and passages of prose an archaic curiosity, without educative value?
That too-common view is sadly wrong. Kids need both the poetry and the memorization. As educators have known for centuries, these exercises deliver unique cognitive benefits, benefits that are of special importance for kids who come from homes where books are scarce and the level of literacy low. In addition, such exercises etch the ideals of their civilization on children’s minds and hearts....
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....
No less important, memorizing poetry turns on kids’ language capability. It not only teaches them to articulate English words; it heightens their feel for the intricacies and complexities of the English language—an indispensable attainment if they are to go on to speak, write, and read English with ease. Susan Wise Bauer, author of The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had, argues that memorization “builds into children’s minds an ability to use complex English syntax.” The student “who memorizes poetry will internalize” the “rhythmic, beautiful patterns” of the English language. These patterns then become “part of the student’s ‘language store,’ those wells that we all use every day in writing and speaking.” Without memorization, the student’s “language store,” Bauer says, will be limited: memorization stocks “the language store with a whole new set of language patterns.”
It also stocks those bins with a generous supply of the English language’s rich accumulation of words. Research suggests that the size of a child’s vocabulary plays an important part in determining the quality of his language-comprehension skills. “The greater and wider the vocabulary,” says education historian [Diane] Ravitch, “the greater one’s comprehension of increasingly difficult material.” Bauer points out that if “a student reads a word in a novel, she might or might not remember it for later use. But when she commits it to memory in proper context (as the memorization of lines of poetry requires), she is much more likely to have it at her ‘mental fingertips’ for use in her own speaking and writing.”
All these benefits are especially important for inner-city kids. Bill Cosby recently pointed to the tragedy of the black kids he sees “standing on the corner” who “can’t speak English.” “I can’t even talk the way these people talk,” Cosby said: “ ‘Why you ain’t. Where you is.’ ” To kids who have never known anything but demotic English, literary English is bound to seem an alien, all but incomprehensible dialect. Kids who haven’t been exposed to the King’s English in primary school or at home will have a hard time, if they get to college, with works like Pride and Prejudice and Moby Dick. In too many cases, they will give up entirely, unable to enter the community of literate citizens—and as a result will live in a world of constricted opportunity....