Friday, October 2, 2015

Memorization?

For this blog post, I want to try something a bit different. I'd like to point you in the direction of some interesting videos and articles we have come across in our discussions at Houston Academy.

Over the past three years, we have been engaged in a discussion about what education should mean in the information age. As a 1:1 MacBook school, our students have more information at their fingertips than there has ever been in human history. The “Knowledge Doubling Curve," created by Buckminster Fuller, tells us that up until 1900, human knowledge doubled about every hundred years. By 1945, knowledged was estimated to double every 25 years. Now, we believe that human knowledge doubles every 12 months. IBM asserts that it will soon double every 12 hours. Moreover, we can pull out a "smart phone" and access that information instantly, from anywhere in the world. We have "smart" TVs, and "smart" computers that can "think." That begs the question of "What is essential for our students to know?"

For example, we would agree that students need to know their vocabulary in their world language classes if they are going to be fluent in their chosen language. However, debate is raging in the educational community about the nature of essential knowledge and the role of memorization in our educational system. Do students need to learn times tables? What about spelling? Do they need to know that "in fourteen hundred and ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue"? We still have a "classical" educational model that maintains that memorization is the key to learning, but at HA, we have come to  virtual consensus that it is more important for our students to be able to find information that to memorize information. Furthermore, once that information is acquired, the real challenge is to synthesize and analyze that information and separate good information from bad.

Actually, the argument against memorization is far from new. As early as 1956, educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom identified six cognitive domains, starting from the most simple to the most complex. Informed by brain research, "Bloom"s Taxonomy" was revised in the 1990s to place "creativity" at the highest level. "Remembering" (or memorizing) has remained at the lowest level.


I encourage you to click on the links I have provided. These videos and articles are thought-provoking, and I would love to get a discussion going about the value and role of memorization in our educational system.

Read this article!

And this one! 

Watch this video!

And watch this one!

6 comments:

  1. I found this article more discouraging than interesting. There seems to be a great big experiment underway with our education system that mirrors what has been taking place within our healthcare system.

    I would challenge readers of this article to sincerely ask themselves the question of whether the doctor-patient relationship has been strengthened or eroded as we as a society have swallowed the technological hook that has been so graciously offered up by an industry that has profited so greatly. Firsthand, it has been sad to watch its effect on the intimacy of that relationship.

    Similarly, I suspect most of the current efforts to progress our education system will have deleterious effects. I do agree that there is much information but I beg to differ that this information should then be likened to knowledge. Of course the technological industry would have you believe this because only with its products could we ever hope to keep up. Emoticons instead of spelling! Texting instead of good conversation! Ebooks instead of crinkled pages that can be touched and felt! I can’t convince someone who has bought into this way of thinking but I think there are many folks out there that know what I am trying to say.

    This disdain for memorization that is beginning to be discussed at centers of higher education is not only due to the leaders being duped by the technology lobby/industry, but also, I think due to some more sinister reasons. I think that many progressives in leadership nationally/internationally really have a hatred for the true history of Western Civilization and in particular United States History. I think they know that if the dates can be “un-taught” then eventually the history will have little meaning and the minions can be pushed and prodded in a direction to the liking of the leaders. Spelling not important! That would only be true if language was not important, and to a leadership whose agenda is multiculturalism and not national and local cultures that preserve local heritage, languages serve only to slow its progress. I also think that there is an effort afoot to prevent excellence. It is not “fair” to allow certain people to be excellent anymore. By saying there is no need to memorize and simply allow students to “look up answers” on wonderful techno-tools, I think this makes it easier for those who choose not to study and excel to look as if they have. We see this very clearly demonstrated in today’s university systems and our public school system.

    I could go on but that is not the point of this blog. I appreciate our school’s leadership and I KNOW the intent is to teach our students well. Let’s not forget how we became the finest school in the Wiregrass. Quality teaching and high expectations of our students have been cornerstones and I hope they continue to be. Let’s not desperately jump on the bandwagon of new ideas that are unproven and in many instances not even logical.

    Rodney Beauchamp

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  2. I agree with much of what you say, Dr. Beauchamp. I think what we need to evaluate the question of "what is essential knowledge"? This becomes even more critical as our knowledge grows exponentially.

    As a history teacher, I do think there are some dates that are just important to know as a citizen of this country - 1776 comes to mind. However, what I have seen with many teachers is that instead of assigning writing, they ask the kids to do fill-in-the blank or true-false questions that require the lowest level of thinking. They ask them to "identify" someone instead of explaining his or her importance. A trained simeon can memorize, but what separates us from other forms of life is our ability to DO SOMETHING with information.

    For me, the most important aspect of teaching history is getting students to think critically, put events into context, understand cause-and effect, and understand sequence. They need to learn how to make abstract connections relative to complex social phenomenon. Maybe most importantly, our students need not forget that society and history deal with real people with real lives, who face real issues. Moreover they need to understand how the events of yesterday affect their daily lives today. Students don't learn that by memorizing.

    Unfortunately, when I look back on many of my high school history classes, I came away from it with the understanding that History was just "one darn thing after another." Luckily, I had some great teachers along the way who taught me that history was so much more than that.

    As an aside, I would note that since our children are entering a global marketplace and a global society, while our students certainly need to study US history, we also need to ensure that world history is a true WORLD history. Our children need to understand other cultures and how they view the world.

    In short, in my mind, having students memorize and regurgitate to no real end is the method of the lazy teacher. We're not going to have that at HA.

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  3. Oh, and Dr. Beauchamp, I'm not sure what you are alluding to in particular with medicine, but I think technology has depersonalized many aspects of society. Never in human history have we been so connected yet so disconnected.

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    1. I appreciated your comments but I feel a little like we are two ships passing in the night. Of course, I think critical thinking is what learning is all about. No argument at all. My problem with the whole “No Memorization” push is that it simplifies the issue to either critical thinking OR memorization. I know that is not what you are talking about, but due to the sinister components of this push discussed earlier, and the need to rubber-stamp a method, I am convinced that is what the elite in higher education are pushing onto the minions.

      Memorization is a critical link in the chain of good learning. It is essential. It is logical. In almost every field of study there is a basic and sometimes very large foundation of information that is essential to KNOW (as at the front of your proverbial mind), to be able to think critically. When we are talking about elementary and high school, I think it is unwise to brush off the importance of these foundational issues. I would predict that if we jump on the bandwagon completely I will hear my children quote teachers who tell them, “No, don’t memorize that date because really smart people don’t learn that way.” Maybe not. Hopefully I am being a little paranoid. However, as I have watched public school parents deal with Common Core issues, the paranoia seems to be coming from the other side when a child simply uses memorization to get a multiplication problem done quicker. Those children are accosted, by adults to never memorize a multiplication problem.

      What I prefer and have found helpful is to have children memorize the fool out of foundational items. Yes, multiplication tables along with small children’s books, songs, procedures, maps, formulas, tons of dates, scripture, etc., then with these and other basics we could move into areas of critical thinking. Sure memorizing the volume of a cylinder was not necessary, but for a while it proved helpful to get to the meat of the problem more quickly. To have to slow down and look up every building block would tend to make the process of learning the higher stuff very choppy and inefficient.

      To clarify the medical example from my last post, as our society has embraced this “better way” to do medicine without a regard for the good of the “old way”, something very valuable has been lost, probably forever. With medicine, I am referring to its adulteration by technology. With education, I am referring to these new non-traditional ideas that seem to be sweeping across our land. I just hope the effect is not as catastrophic.

      I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss these issues for two reasons. It is important, and it gives me a chance to say how thankful I am for the education my kids have received from Houston Academy.

      Rodney Beauchamp

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