I have mentioned memorization as an indispensable tool we use in our homeschool in my book The Classical Unschooler. I know memorization is usually a sticky point with a lot of people today. After all, the argument goes, we can always look something up. Why bother memorizing dates and details? Isn’t that a little dry? Surely, we could be spending more time creating something beautiful, reading, enjoying something rather than memorizing?
Look, I get it. Even my children know to say, “Let’s just ask Google!” when I say I don’t know the answer to something.
Yes, we can of course “just google it.” We use calculators. And, yes, memorization can sometimes seem dry and completely not in keeping with the freedom that unschooling is supposed to be.
But today, in the midst of planning for our next homeschool year, I realized why memory work is almost as – if not more – important than all those other fun things like reading and creating.
Here’s how it happened. I’d been flipping through some of my children’s books lately. There are those I found at random library sales and some that people have graciously given me and some which who knows how ended up in our pile. There was one in particular that drew my attention. It was about Isaac Newton.
This will make a great read aloud, I must have thought when I acquired it, and since we’re now starting our study of science in earnest, I was leafing through the slim book, considering if it would make a good choice for this fall. I realized I knew almost nothing about Newton besides the falling apple and him having figured out gravity. So I read it.
Boy, was I glad I did.
The anachronisms were glaring. It wasn’t so much that the book was lying, but that it seemed to give a veneer of reality to its opinionated thinking by generously padding its sentences with “perhaps” and “maybe” and then drawing from the poetry of the time to fill in the blanks as to what Newton might have been thinking. This in a children’s biography, which didn’t need to be anything but facts. Why the conjecture? Why the guessing? I would be horrified if someone for instance ever tried to guess my thoughts by today’s popular music.
It seemed to me, the book was at best speculative and at worst malicious, injecting doubt, falsehood and drama to “spice up” the story when there was no need for such an approach. Was this done just to interest 10-12 year olds? Sadly, this kind of writing is far from uncommon.
Increasingly, I am beginning to find writers rewriting biographies and looking at people in the past through modern eyes. Yes, some of this is normal and happens almost unknowingly and can be overlooked, but to have to dog ear nine instances in a book under 50 pages was unforgivable. The book ended up in the trash, where it should have been in the first place – among its kind.
So where does memorization come into this?
Years ago, I was told that federal agents learn to detect counterfeit money by studying real money first. The same is true of memorization. It is only if you can call up information at a moment’s notice that you are relatively immune from revisionism and counterfeits.
In fact, it is precisely because we have access to all the information in the world at our fingertips, that memorization becomes even more important.
When information abounds, it’s easy to let the majority swing us in the wrong direction because “everyone thinks so.” If I didn’t know my history, I would be taken in by this badly written book. Lack of knowing makes it easier to be manipulated. Lack of memorized dates makes it so easy to paste the modern era onto the past – complete with current ideologies, battles and ways of dealing with them.
I have come a long way from the time when I didn’t understand why learning dates was important. But if my convictions have changed, it’s because I’m still learning.
Have you read The Classical Unschooler? Reviewers are calling it, “A thought-provoking, helpful book.” Get it here.