In his poem "Forgetfulness," Billy Collins discusses the idea that learning something new displaces some other thing we used to know. He says: "even now as you memorize the order of the planets, something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps, the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay." I started memorizing poetry in college and even now, I like to tell myself that my ability to recite sonnets by Shakespeare and poetry by Hopkins, Dickinson, and Frost explains why I can't name all the presidents anymore, or remember the outcome of various world wars.
Thanks for this tip! What a wonderful poem. The whole thing is here:
Thanks for the link. I haven't read this poem before, but it certainly speaks to me.
While a golden age of memorization is clearly going to be hard to find without going back to the pandits of the classical Sanskrit period (see Staal on Orality and Literacy, for a great study) the lack of such a time in recent memory seems a bit of a straw man. No, there was no such time, but there was a time when we were expected to learn more than we are today, and prior to that, a time when even more was required.
Is this a bad direction we're going in? The fact is that failure to memorize certain facts cripples the intellect and makes any real learning impossible, or at least highly unlikely. A music student who doesn't memorize his scales and chords will be severely hampered in their playing, no matter how clever their fingers. Someone who hasn't learned their arithmetical tables will be unable to understand the ways in which numbers relate to each other, shutting them out of most serious thought on public life. (although they will think they know something because they listen to public radio, they will only know what they are told, not what they think) Anyone who hasn't the ability or interest required to commit to memory the dates of historical events has not a hope of understanding the relations between those events, and thus will be entirely ignorant of history - and again, shut out of serious thought about current political events. And someone who doesn't memorize a poem will never hear the whole poem, which is only heard when you can hold the whole thing in your head at once, and their life will be much poorer for it.
The ability to track down trivia instantly is a pretty poor substitute for a curiousity about the world, if you ask me.
As a mother of young children (8,5 and 5) I am amazed at their interest in, and ability to write, poetry. While their typing/writing skills are not up to doing it without a "scribe" they are able to write some pretty interesting freeform poetry, and then memorize it. I won't share a lot of it, but I will share our family's current favorite. It was written by Kathleen, one of the 5 year-old twins.
In many ways, it is part of what makes our family us, that we have memorized our family's poetry, and can recite it together on the "Frog Bridge" close to our home. I am sure when we move away, we will still think of it as the frog bridge when we recite the poem.
Oh Frog, I didn?t get to say goodbye
So this is the way I will say goodbye
Oh Frog, I miss you
I really wanted to say goodbye
But I didn?t get any time
So maybe I can read this poem where you live
That is close to here
And some frogs will go around me
And you too
Maybe all of them will go around me
BTW, as the daughter of an English teacher, I am thrilled we are talking about this. As the sister of a math teacher, I am distressed that we are talking about poetry on Pi Day.
If you are one of the unfortunate people who has not yet celebrated Pi Day, here is a place to get started. http://www.piday.org/
As a poetry teacher participating in Poetry Out Loud, I don't see anything distressing about discussing poetry on Pi Day. I try to do some cross-disciplinary work in my English classes, and the rhythms of poetry offer a marvelous opportunity to incorporate math. For centuries poets (and their readers) have been good counters and measurers. Why accept the traditional fragmentation and departmentalization of the academic world in the past century or so?
Just this morning I was listening to a Dharma talk with Thich Nhat Hanh who told a story about when he first entered the monastary at age 16. He was handed a book for verses and told to memorize all 50 of them. Having had what he referred to as a "Western understanding" of memorization, he thought the exercise was useless. But after memorizing the verses, he found that he was able to utilize them in his daily business to practice mindfulness. Without the memorization of the verses, he would have been lacking a key tool in his Buddhist practice.
On aother note, during a camping trip last summer, I lost count of the times my friends and I said "Oh, we'll just google it and find out!" forgetting for a moment that we were out of wifi range in the middle of Central Oregon. We were wishing we'd committed more information to memory.
In comparing international math scores, The Economist magazine found little correlation to money and class size, but a strong correlation to traditional practices like memorizing multiplication tables and geometric theorems.
While I believe we have become too dependent upon search engines and the internet, our cell phones phone list and our email address book, I also do not believe there is intrinsic value in memorization of poetry for the sake of memorization. Students with better memorization skills will do better in school; it is how I passed all my classes, because I did not study. This doesn?t mean memorizing a date for history, or a poem for English will actually help the student. Critical thinking is much more important. In the case of math there ARE benefits to memorizing simple formulas, multiplication tables, etc. Shouldn?t we be teaching students, especially ones growing up in this information age how to THINK not just memorize?
Of course students should be thinking beyond rote memorization, but there are certain pieces of information that are invaluable to have memorized. The alphabet, for one. I still use "I before E except after C" to proof-read my emails. My husband is a carpenter and uses math formulas on a daily basis.
I completely disagree with this. Aside from the actual item that is being memorized and the value that this may have (whether that value be realized today or 20yrs into the future), there is the very important value of exercising the brain. I was not an English major and in fact did not derive much pleasure from my English classes during High School & College, but now 16 yrs later, I fully appreciate the value of all that memorization that I was "forced" to do at the time. I now inadvertently memorize many things and am surprised at how this part of my brain helps me in my work and at how automated this feature truly is. I wonder if it would have been developed at all had I not had the teachers I had, that required us to memorize the things they did. I strongly believe that memorization is an integral part of thinking; it creates a catelog of facts for your brain to sift through at a later date when that information is then needed, a skill that is very valuable for any line of work and a skill that is very helpful for any social interaction. Think of how quoting a simple line of poetry in politics could make or break a situation...
I love poetry and it seems like there are few of us; but I certainly do not advocate memorizing it or anything else. Memorization is extravagant, trivial, outdated and generally pointless. Concepts and ideas are what is important, if you grasp these you don't need to remember the filler.
I agree that memorization can detract from more important skills and concepts. We don't have enough time for all of it, and if memorizing displaces thinking or understanding, we lose something valuable.
On the other hand, memorizing poems, quotations, formulae, facts, and dates can enrich our minds and enable richer discourse.
My 4 year old daughter likes to memorize a lot of things. She memorized a whole book which has 32 pages (it's a picture book, but kind of long) when she was 2 and half. Now she memorizes a couple books from the beginning to the end with only a few mistakes. She also knows lots of dinosaur names.
I know small kids have good memories, but my daughter's memory is really good compare to the other kids. I would like to know how memory will work at school and if my daughter will be always with good memory.
How do we as a society decide what poetry we should learn? It seems without sharing the exact poem then a shared body of knowledge argument is not valid? It would seem spending time on general knowledge instead of exact knowledge would be much more beneficial to society. In history its much more important to understand why and how instead of when. Critical thinking does not come from memorizing dates in history or poetry but from a lot of knowledge from a lot of sources.
Memorization is CALMING. How lovely it is to recite a poem, prayer or mantra (in my head or out loud). It relaxes the tension in my body.
Memorization is also part of the process of internalizing knowledge.
Thank you to Caren for reciting her poem, not only was the recitation spectacular, but you made me think outside the box about how to recite poetry. This will help me with my student teaching!
Over 20 years ago as a high school senior in Worthington, Ohio, my first day of AP European History started with the teacher asking us to take out a blank sheet of paper. He instructed us to freehand draw the map of Europe labeling all political boundries, mountains, rivers and bodies of water. This was an exercise he repeated every week of the course. His belief was that we couldn't understand history without understanding geography. It has proven extremely valuable over the last 20 years in following current political events. The map has changed quite a bit since I was a high school senior but as recently as 5 years ago, I could still draw that map!
The power of memorization goes beyond our ability to externalize the things we know- like quote a poem or passage. The greater power of memorization is the ability to internalize the influences we want to emulate.
As a child I watched my dad memorize scriptures. As I was able I too memorized scriptures and although I have memorized two books of the Bible and some other large segments, I pale in comparison to my dad who memorized the entire new testament in english, half of it in Spanish, and continues daily memorization to this day.
The power of internalizing these things is our ability to apply something quickly as life happens.
Most households have several bibles, works of poetry, plays by shakespeare. How many of us are influenced by them in our daily life?
All of us who memorized them.
When everything else is taken away, do we long for our gadgets to look up our own identity?
When does memorization replace critical thought? Your father has achieved a monumental feat of memorizing a very large and difficult work however when was the last time your father or yourself thought critically about the work you spent so much time memorizing? The bible is not a very logical or well thought out work, what happened to the many childhood years of Jesus? I'm not trying to start a theological debate but rather make the point, that in your case in in school it would seem memorization is replacing critical thought.
I know you mean well. I am a software analyst, I spend most of my days working and living in critical thought. I serve on the boards of directors of a several non-profits and have standing invitations to serve on others.
The bible is full of examples of how to apply religious conviction to the challenges of daily life in a illogical world.
I agree that memorization can detract from more important skills and concepts. We don't have enough time for all of it, and if memorizing displaces thinking or understanding, we lose something valuable.
On the other hand, memorizing poems, quotations, formulae, facts, and dates can enrich our minds and enable richer discourse. Ghangas' point--that the memorized material becomes an integral part of the life of a memorizer--is indisputable. The question you raise is whether we do anything more than merely memorize material. I think we should--and I think that memorizing it can enable mental agility just as often as it can detract from time to think.
Memorization is not just committing something to memory. It's also [i]mental exercise[/i]. Repeatedly lifting weights is boring, but it builds a strong body. The same is true of the mind.
Mark Twain's wonderful book, [i]On The Mississippi[/i], describes the prodigious feats of memorization achieved by Mississippi river pilots in the pre-civil war era. They had [i]the whole river[/i] memorized, and not just one version - they had it in daytime, at night, low water, high water, flood stage, etc. The goal was that you could take a river pilot out on the bridge any time, anywhere, and he would [i]immediately[/i] know where he was and where he needed to go.
Now [i]that's[/i] a strong mind!
Another example: fighter pilots have to know a large number of complex procedures to operate their airplanes. These all have to be memorized. As a child, I aspired to be a fighter pilot, so I read books about fighter pilot training. Part of the training involved running an obstacle course, getting hosed down with cold water, while reciting fighter plane operating procedures at a shout. If you can recite the procedure under that level of stress, you've got a shot at doing it correctly in the midst of air combat.
I teach in a college-level technical field, and I see a lot of incoming students with weak minds. They seem not to have gotten enough mental exercise in K-12. Too much "critical thinking" and New Math, I guess, and not enough hard mental work.
Memorization is key to many creative expressions...from music to acting to dancing to writing to cooking. Once you know the basics -- a scale, for instance -- whether it's a muscle or intellectual memory, you're able to move on to much more complex patterns and deeper beauty.
I?m not much of a poetry guy but I?m real big on kids learning how to train and operate their mind and body and have confidence in themselves and learning how to train their memory is useful not only in poetry but in sports and nearly everything else.
Skiing deep powder requires that you pick out and memorize the path you want to take down the mountain because after you start you?re skiing blind with the snow going over your head, it?s like skiing on a cloud.
Sometimes racing a slalom the freezing fog blows through, covers your goggles and blinds you and you have to keep going with the confidence that you memorized the course perfectly, so one mistake in that memory can make you fall.
Memorizing poetry is maybe the easiest way for all kids to learn how to train their brains to memorize and gain that confidence so I?m all for it.
As a parent who had the honour to listen to our local kids reciting poetry in the Poetry Out Loud contest, I was thrilled to hear ALL of the kids presenting. Each and every one brought some part of themselves to the recitation and many had the capability to draw us into their world and entrance us. The most difficult thing was that I was one of the judges and so had to evaluate each and every performance but it is something that I look forward to each year now. Poetry stretches our minds as we search for the meaning between the words...
As a young girl, i'm 57 now, my mom used to read me, at bedtime, Don Blanding, the Hawaiian poet's, Vagabonds House. I can recite much of it still. 'If I have a house that I sometime may, I'll suit my fancy in every way. I'll fill it with things that have caught my eye, in drifting from Iceland to Molakai'. It goes on to describe the books, the spice rack, "ol Joy' who will fix a drink and the pups, 'one by breeding, the other by heart.' Guess which one was named Mickey. Then the paintings..the 'smashing marine' and the other that explained what the author 'thinks about sin.' Check it out.. it gave me the wonderlust and curiosity to keep reading and exploring the world around me, with the wealth of words or putting one foot in front of the other... Sandi in Redmond, Oregon
I homeschool my children using a classical philosophy. From 5 years on they memorize poetry. This is not just to fill heads with words, although developing imagination with beautiful images is a benifit. Memory is a tool that we will all need at some time--whether it is to pass a medical exam, or to recall a lost shopping list. The memory muscul is strengthened by use. Our family also genuinely enjoys reciting poetry for one another. Not having television helps us have time to enjoy Paul Revere's Ride, The Flag Goes By, and Stoppoing by Woods on a Snowy Evening. Oral and auditory learning adds richness to our educational experience--a richness all children would benifit from.
Allison Eddyblouin (Edee-BLEW-in)
When I heard this rebroadcast tonight I had just come from a church talent show. I contributed "fillers" between acts reciting classics I had to or chose to memorize when I was young (some about 40 years ago). These included Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, which everyone had to memorize since we lived in New Hampshire, a poem by Ogden Nash, The Smells of Summer by Henry Gibson, and the theme to the Super Chicken cartoon (which I attempted to sing). These things are cornerstones in the foundation of the memories of my youth. Remembering them helps bring me back to my thoughts and actions in simpler times.
Most of this has been about poems. A few folks have pointed out how memorizing helps so much. This might have been brought up all ready but what about people with Dislexia (spelling) Memorizing helped me so much through school.
I agree poetry does seem to be the general topic, there is a lot more to this topic than poetry. I want to know where is the line between memorization and general knowledge? I prefer and am very good at general knowledge. I NEVER studied in school. I had three classes in college where I never even unwrapped the text book. When I hear something in a lecture I know it from then on. I can grasp general ideas and then apply the general ideas to answer specific questions on tests. I can ?figure? things out. Does this mean I am good at memorization? I am very bad at memorizing specific dates, multiplication tables, even phone numbers. Whats the difference between my creepy ability to remember but not memorize?
I WENT THROUGH SOME OF THIS WHEN I WAS IN SCHOOL AND NEVER DID GET IT. I HAVE AN IQ OF 135. I DO NOT HAVE A MEMORY FOR ROTE. I CAN REMEMBER THINGS IN A STEP PROCESS OF SNIOOETS THAT I SOMETIMES CANNOT LINK WITHOUT HAVING THE SOURCE. AS IN ONE GRADE WE WERE SUPPOSED TO MEMORIZE ALL 159 COUNTIES IN GEORGIA. THIS WAS IDLE USELESSNESS. I GOT TO ABOUT FIFTEEN AND COULD NEBER LINK ANYMORE. I GOT A D THAT TERM IN HISTORY. I DO WELL IN LANGUAGES AND OTHER THINGS. I KEEP MANY THINGS ON A BOOK OR OTHER EFERENCE NEARBY. I HAVE AN MBA. I CAN IN MY BRAIN A MULTIDIMENSIONAL MATRIX OF TWENTY VARIABLES IN SPACE AND SENSE THEIR INTERACTIONS. I BUILT A MODEL TO DO THIS WITH MANY DIFFERENT SMALL BUSINESSES. IT WORKED.
Memorizing is part of learning. If we didn't memorize the multiplication tables wouldn't we feel pretty stupid getting on a calculator every time we had to multiply numbers. I know I use my multiplication skills every day. What about a foreign language. I've hosted students from Europe who know two or more languages. That takes a lot of memorization. But still critical thinking skills are just as important as well as learning to use the tools we have today like the search engins. My head is filled with information I had to memorize and my life is richer for it.
Oregon's Poetry Out Loud State Champion is Sophia Soberon, a 17-year-old senior at Brookings-Harbor High School. She'll represent the state in the national competition, in Washington, DC on April 28-29.
Caren Sims, heard on Friday's Think Out Loud, was one of six finalists adding to Gresham's Center for Advanced Learning's outstanding track record for Poetry Out Loud:
2006 -- Michael Santiago, State Champion and one of 12 finalists in the national competition in Washington, DC
2007 -- Ian Holt, State Champion
2008 -- Caren Sims, one of six finalists in the state competition.
Rita Ramstad, also heard on Friday's TOL, is the POL coordinator at CAL.
Any high school teachers interested in bringing Poetry Out Loud to their schools next year, should contact the Oregon Arts Commission's
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