One of my favorite things to get for a gift is a book. It’s especially nice at Christmas to sit around by my parent’s wood stove reading and not worrying about what work I should be doing. 

This year my brother gave me a book called ten ways to destroy the imagination of your child by Anthony Esolen. I alternate between finding real gems that I had never considered before, and being so irritated by it, that I want to quit it altogether. But then I keep reading and I find another gem.

Right in the beginning of the book, he starts stressing the good points of memorization. If you have read anything of unschooling/nontraditonal education literature, you know one of the main things they criticize about school is that they encourage rote memorization, and what good is that when we have google, etc. 

Esolen answers: “That is because a developed memory is a wondrous and terrible storehouse of things seen and heard and done. It can do what no mere search engine on the internet can do. It can call up apparently unrelated things at once, molding them into a whole impression, or a new thought.”

“To have such a wealth of poetry in your mind–a wealth of knowledge about man, set to music–is to be armed against the salesman and the social controllers. It allows you the chance of independent thought and independence is by nature unpredictable.”

If you are memorizing poetry or multiplication tables, you are allowing that knowledge to really become part of you. So when you are writing something, a bit of Homer or Poe might jump out from your mind to beautiful illustrate a point you want to make. If you have a good grasp of grammar, it allows your writing to be easily read. If you know numbers backwards and forwards, “they are tools for your cleverness to fool about with, as a machinist learns the feel of the wrench or a drill press.”

As a life learner (unschooler or whatever word you want to use to describe not making your kids learn stuff), I am not going to sit my son down and force him to memorize anything, but before reading this book, I may have been guilty of falling into this sort of subtly discouraging attitude:

“‘We don’t teach by rote memorization,’ say our educators today, raising their chins in pride. ‘We prefer to teach critical thinking. We prefer to tap the imagination.'”

When we express, even subtly, a disdain for memorization, grammar, and other tools of traditional education, we are hamstringing our children–saying that these things school children used to do are not worthy of our time.

One memory pertaining to memorization sticks out in my mind from my junior high years. There were a number of us 12-13 year olds at an amusement park waiting in a long line. One boy there was homeschooled, and apparently, his schooling or perhaps just his interests included memorizing poetry. So in that long line for Free Fall, he kept us enthralled with animated recitations of The Bells and other long poems. 

When you have great works of art in your mind, you can never be bored.

Well, I’m sorry to end on such an abrupt note, but we’ve had a long day of partying with our relatives, and my son needs to get to bed. Even though he’s, “SO unready!!!” 

I’ve been working on memorizing Robert Brownings version of the Pied Piper of Hamelin for the past year and a half (obviously not very hard or often!). It’s a wonderfully musical poem with delightful phrases like, (speaking of the mayor), “looking little though wondrous fat.” And-“To think we buy gowns lined with ermine, for dolts that can’t or won’t determine, what’s best to rid us of our vermin.” So I would like to spend more time doing that this year, and memorizing other stories and poems, if for no other reason, then to entertain Caleb or myself when we are waiting in lines. 

Happy New Year!



3 thoughts on “Memorization

  1. I once wrote an essay about …I don’t know…paintings I liked and poetry, this is a poem I included in that essay, I can’t remember who its by but I this poem is like a beautiful love and it been written like a note left on the table.

    This is just to say

    I have eaten
    the plums
    that were in
    the ice box

    and which
    you were probably
    for breakfast

    Forgive me
    they were delicious
    so sweet
    and so cold

    (just looked it up on google! it by William Carlos Williams)

    It often comes to mind, its tender nature and humor, I can picture it being discovered while the writer is still asleep the following morning.

  2. I think we’ll learn Robert Frost’s “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” together-have always loved that one.
    Excited about checking out the book you mentioned-they actually have it at my library-Woo-hoo. We have slim pickings here. And love the idea of using poetry to entertain your kids while waiting in lines. Happy New Year, Cheryl!

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