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August 02, 2004
Now memorise this!

Arts & Letters Daily links to this eloquent defence of the educational tradition of the rote learning of great poetry and great literature, by Michael Knox Beran.

Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest.

Which is a quotation of some sort (the Bible?), for I too had the kind of education that MKB is praising, and is lamenting the passing of. But I don't remember what I am quoting. However, that is not the point. The point is to get a sense of what fine language and fine thinking feels like. Then, you can do it yourself for as long as you live. Remembering all the chapter and verse numbers is good, but not absolutely essential. Not having been exposed to any of this kind of thing at all is, says MKB, a grave disability.

Can rote learning be reconciled with the voluntary principle in education? Why not? If you have great performers performing these poems and speeches, and inspiring pupils to perform along with them, then, as President Michael Douglas says of his daughter's lessons in American constitutional history in The American President, what's not to enjoy? (The daughter, alas, is not enjoying.)

Seriously, if, as MKB argues, learning by heart comes naturally to young children, then why do you need to force them to do it? All you need is the argument about whether it is a good use of their time, and whether they should be encouraged or dissuaded from thus learning.

Tragically, most of the educational arguments of our time are between (a) people who think children should be compelled to do good and educationally valuable things, and (b) people who don't think that good and educationally valuable things are good and educationally valuable.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:37 PM
Category: Education theory

Much truth in this. I disliked rote learning at the time, but now regret not knowing poems and prose by heart. Perhaps I will persuade Mrs. B to try it out with the young Blumfelds.

Comment by: julius on August 18, 2004 10:44 PM

Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest is from the Book of Common Prayer.

Comment by: Gerry on August 22, 2004 08:55 PM
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