Part 2: Girders for the framework

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I suggested teachers and parents ought to stand up for grammar. Now I’d like to make a second suggestion: Let’s stand up for memorization. Current pedagogical thinking discourages so-called rote memorization as old-fashioned, viewing this activity as too tedious for an engaged classroom. Where possible, we are encouraged to teach retrieval instead.

The multiplication tables (now often called math facts) are still expected to be memorized, but teachers may perform this feat as quickly as possible, frequently passing out candy to encourage the effort, and then move on from this regrettable necessity as soon as all students can pass “the test.”. I am convinced this is why I have taught math to seventh and eighth graders who can’t tell me the answer to 6 X 7 without counting on fingers. I’ve seen a few students count on both fingers and toes.

Memorization provides the girders we use to build critical-thinking skills. Memorization builds memory pathways and connections. Memorization also gives students practice doing something tedious that provides them with long-term benefits.

While we are standing up for memorization, I think teachers and parents should also stand up for tedium, for the many benefits that come from doing activities that are not fun. Our students will be the better for learning to manage tedium in the long-run. With practice, maybe when their first job turns out to be boring, they won’t just quit. Maybe when the engineering program proves difficult, they won’t switch majors to something that will pay them $1,000,000 less over their lifetimes. Maybe when their marriages becomes less exciting than expected, they will understand that quiet commitment is a better choice than the endless search for more fireworks.

Or, if nothing else, maybe they will at least be ready to move out of the basement or the attic of their parents house after college, ready to shoulder the sometimes tedious responsibility of their own lives.