A conflict in philosophy — retrieval vs. memorization

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In the recent past, schools have emphasized retrieval over memorizing facts. But I am listening as the pendulum begins to swing back. Administrators cautiously talk about the need to memorize facts that are on the standardized tests.

The conflict is amusing except for those moments where teachers get trapped in the middle. Administrators want memorization but they don’t want to linger over portions of the curriculum. The curriculum map has too many standards to cover. They also want to see fun, enriching lessons filled with critical thinking questions and enthusiastic student responses.

I have to put college readiness standards and common core standards in my lesson plans, along with Illinois standards at times, and I am supposed to match my lessons and supportive materials to those standards. The effort takes hours, especially since we keep adding new standards and I keep teaching different classes. I am holding my own on creativity requirements, but I am not getting a lot of effort at memorization. Many of my high school math students don’t know their multiplication tables (often called math facts today).

Eduhonesty: The truth is that memorization is not fun. It may provide foundations for critical thinking, but it’s not a critical thinking exercise either. Memorization has been neglected in recent years, replaced by calculators, internet searches and those enriching lessons where students answer hypothetical questions, often very badly since they have so few actual facts to bring to the table.

Will the pendulum swing back toward more learning of facts? I hope so, but our students are no longer accustomed to mental labor of this nature. Resistance on their part can be expected — and it may not be futile. A remarkable number of students don’t know the answer to “What is eight times four?”