Let me just say that everything I have memorized I like having in my head. I have some poems in my head. I have totally boring dialogue from my French textbook that I was so scared I’d have to read aloud that I said it out loud 5000 times. I know way too much about Renaissance England. And I know so much about children’s books that my family’s book store did not have to go to a computer—I had it all in my head.
But the truth is that memorizing did not make my life better. It mostly just made me nervous that I wasn’t memorizing what other people were memorizing. In high school, my friends were all in the gifted English program and I wasn’t. They read Tale of Two Cities and everyone knew the first two lines. I panicked that I didn’t know them. So I read the book.
I could have read just the first two lines.
The gorgeous photos in this post are from Elena Shumilova. There are more here.
One of the reasons people love her photos is because they embody what we want childhood to be. And, of course, a charmed childhood is not a picture of kids memorizing.
Kids learn through playing, of course. If they play the same thing over and over again, they end up memorizing what’s important. The route to the climbing tree in the neighbor’s forest. The path to their safe house in Minecraft. The ingredients for chocolate chip cookies.
You never read that kids suffer from a severe deficit of memorizing—especially since everything they’d ever need to recall is searchable online. But you do read, all the time, that kids suffer from lack of playtime. Memorizing is one of the culprits.
As skeptical as I am, there are still memorizing extravaganzas that move me. Vanity Fair has a great article about two kids who spent seven summer vacations creating their own version of Raiders of the Lost Ark, frame by frame. They had memorized the whole thing, and then they made it their own. Which is, actually, the only useful thing to do with memorized information.
In general, I think memorizing is outdated. We used to value people who could store lots of information in their head because we didn’t have the Internet. That was when people with Asperger’s were celebrated for their penchant for memorizing.
But today people with Asperger’s are in special ed and the highest paid workers are not information storage bins but rather information synthesizers. So if you give kids an A for memorizing, it’s just more reinforcement of skills they don’t need, plus you take time that could be used on their creativity, which they need to use all the time to keep it sharp.