I recently reviewed John Taylor Gatto’s Weapons of Mass Instruction, but I wanted to touch again on some of the specifics of his argument. One idea he presents particularly intrigued me.
Gatto has a few things to say about memorization, which is the cornerstone of our (public) educational system but of which he is not a fan:
” . . . memorizing the dots — is the gold standard if intellectual achievement. Not connecting those dots.” (p. 16)
His point here is not only that memorization is ineffective but that it can be actually detrimental to real education. Gatto goes on to say that:
“Twelve to twenty years of stupefying memorization drills weakens the hardiest intellects.” (p. 17)
I will admit a certain glee at reading Gatto’s words. We do in our homeschool do some memory work (a la Charlotte Mason) but memorization itself is by no means the backbone of our approach. I have at times been intimidated by all children can seem to learn in the classical method with its emphasis on memorization in the early years. So it is nice to hear someone say that not only is all this memory work unnecessary, it may actually be harmful. And I can see how this would be true. Paths are worn in the mind be repeated thoughts and actions and so perhaps the act of memorizing information endlessly tends to make one less able to assimilate ideas or to form one’s own.
Now I am not willing to give up memory work completely. We do do map drills and we memorize various sorts of passages (this year we are concentrating on Shakespeare; in the past we have done Bible or poetry). But I tend to think of these as a minor part of what we do. And it is all balanced out with lots of reading of real, living books. I suspect that Gatto would agree that it is not that all memorization is bad but that when it becomes our modus operandi to the exclusion of other methods that it becomes truly harmful. Gatto, like Mason, has a lot to say about interacting with real things and with ideas. I do have one more post planned on what he calls “open source education.” A lot of it sounds very familiar from CM.