Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Children should memorize poetry

Edith Foster’s advises parents to have their children memorize some poetry this Summer, and she explains how to do it. This carefully thought through piece is long, but very useful and I recommend it. I agree with her that it should be done, and I have had had success with more or less the same methods with my own children (but not with my own self, since my memory left years ago!). Still, I remember when I was able to remember. She writes: "Memorization does not deserve its reputation as a killer of creativity. On the contrary, memorization is useful to the whole process of thought creation. It exercises intelligence and quiet concentration, creates a supply of examples to think with and about, and provides models of speech that can be accommodated to suit different themes. Memorization is the basis of versatility, because examples that live in the mind are truly one’s own: they can be molded and recast for any useful purpose."    

Discussions - 7 Comments

Thank you for this, Peter. Despite the current trends in modern education to promote "critical thinking," attack the "evils" of the lecture method, the disregard the benefits of exercising one’s memory like the bards of old in an oral culture, and the explosion of "information" on the world wide web, would anyone seriously entertain the argument that today’s students are better educated and more culturally literate?

We homeschool and poetry reading and memorization are part of the way we do things at this house.. Glad to see this.

Homeschooling, poetry, and memorization - the next thing you’ll be telling us is that your children are literate and well-adjusted. Don’t tell the public schools!

I just want to comment on the number of coffee cups given.... I don’t think you have given this many in quite a while...

If memorization was so good, the the children in inner city schools would be performing much better. They may not know who Thomas Jefferson is but they can recite (in cadence) all of the songs of Jay-Z.

You’re probably right. I agree that there is certainly a great deal of latent talent that is wasted in the inner-city. If only they could be taught to pursue the noble, the good, the beautiful, and the true instead the ignoble, the bad, the ugly, and the false could the road to nowhere possibly become the road to success. Imagine if the time spent memorizing all those vulgar songs were spent memorizing lines of Homer or the Declaration or Lincoln’s speeches or Shakespeare, not to mention King or Booker T. or Douglass or Ellison or DuBois or Wheatley etc., etc., in preparation for an oratory or memory contest. Imagine if some of those words "merely" memorized were taken to heart and lived in character and action.

I realize you were making a joke when you commented that you weren’t trying to memorize because your memory ’left years ago,’ but I would not dismiss the memorization technique in adulthood.

I’ve memorized a number of poems and prose passages - simply because I *liked* them - long after I left school. If anything, the discipline helps to prop up my poor old memory.

And there *are* studies out there that have shown that "mental challenges" (including activities as seemingly diverse as chess, crossword puzzles, and knitting) may help prevent or slow the onset of various age-related memory problems. I suspect the discipline of memorization might do the same, just that it’s not been studied because it’s seen as unfashionable.

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