Many dreamers in the education vanguard talk about the futility of teaching rote memorization of “facts you could Google in three seconds.”
You see their point, right? Why commit to memory historical facts that you can easily look up? We have the entire history of human knowledge at our fingertips.
And while I agree with this to a point, I think there are some major fallacies to this logic.
- Your memory capacity is not limited. Memorizing my sixteen-digit credit card number didn’t require me to forget my childhood address, or any of the phone numbers I’ve had over the last thirty years. There’s plenty of room up there!
- There could come a day when we face a shortage of digital access. I know, not likely, but when tech billionaires are doomsday prepping, do we really want to outsource our knowledge to them?
- The argument is made to replace rote memorization with more opportunities for creative work and play. I argue, as forcefully as I can, that really creative work comes from synthesizing numerous ideas from your personal background. I do not think you can substitute Google for lived experience. Leonard Bernstein couldn’t have simply searched George Gershwin, Mahler, Spirituals, and Aaron Copland to develop his own creative voice. He had to learn his influences by heart to come to his own conclusions.
Indeed, I believe we need to find more opportunities for learning by heart in our educational curricula: poetry, history, art, music. Humanities thrive on memory, and with that memorization, we find the world open to us.