The Uses of Memorization

The Uses of Memorization - Classical Unschooler

I just finished listening to a podcast by Tim Ferriss about memorization with Ed Cooke, Grandmaster of Memory. You can find it here if you’re interested in listening to it.

I have written about memorization work in the past on this blog.

My children love memorizing and I have found that I often  have to provide no incentive for them to do so. They just like it in itself.

Memorization, I have noticed, might be the one thing that divides the classical homeschoolers from the unschoolers more than their politics. (And I say this knowing this to be an election year.) If you speak to a classical homeschooling mom, chances are her children are memorizing everything from Latin words that make no sense to them to American Presidents. They are also quite well versed in uses of mnemonics and can recite a breathtaking array of poetry complete with actions and articulations that make you think you are watching a play on Broadway.

Unschoolers, on the other hand, typically shun memorization. This was incidentally the breaking point for me when I mentioned to a friend and fellow homeschooler that I was having the children memorize poetry. She claimed that no self-respecting unschooler would do such a thing.

So while listening to the above post, I began to wonder if there was any use to memorizing at all or was I interested in watching people like Ed Cooke simply because he was an oddity in the way people read about the amazing feats of, say Guiness World Record holders?

Was there any intrinsic benefit to memorizing information, I wondered, beyond just being able to regurgitate it on to your tests?

It is an important question. Anyone, given time and practice can get better at memorizing with some techniques, some of which are discussed in this Ted Talk. But the question is, as effective as these techniques are, what is the point? What are we going to do with all this information? 

More importantly, in an age where information is available to us with simple voice commands, where encyclopedia are soon going to be as ubiquitous as putting on a pair of Google glasses, should we even be memorizing?

Doesn’t the opportunity cost almost beg us to use our time elsewhere? Memorizing takes a fair amount of time and effort; aren’t we better off using that time elsewhere?

Thankfully for me, the question was asked. And answered.

And I am happy to say that I believe memorization still has a place in a person’s life.

As a classical unschooler, I am more interested in giving my children the tools of learning (and making sure they use them often) than in covering any given curriculum. And I’m beginning to think that memorization is one of those most important tools. Yes, even with Google and Siri and whats-her-name.

Memorizing something, even a deck of cards, or a random list of numbers, according to Cooke, forces one to learn different ways of looking at things.

It forces you to categorize things differently in your brain. For instance, it makes you think of cards as people or of numbers as letters. This drawing together of disparate objects and putting them together in a different category than you would usually has a very practical application, even a personal one.

I think it is one I use almost instinctually and one that I usually get into trouble for. Maybe you do it, too.

Have you ever been doing something highly technical and then turned then inanimate thing you are working with into an anthropomorphous being in your head, maybe even someone you know? What did you do the next minute? You probably removed it from your mind! But that is exactly the kind of learning (because that really was a form of learning) you need to memorize and to have a rich inner life.

For that dear blog reader is where all this memorization work is taking you and your children.

Memorization isn’t just about growing your brain, although it does that, it isn’t about keeping your brain active into its older years, although it does that as well, memorization really is about making life more enjoyable, about making you more fun to yourself, a better person, a bigger person in your own being. Isn’t that what we all want anyway?

Because memorization forces you to learn to categorize, organize and remember information by changing its form, those skills can then be applied to things that are personal. How would you like to remember – in vivid detail a Christmas dinner you had with your first daughter from years ago? And wouldn’t you like to have the perfect memory of your first date with your husband? Taking the kids to Disneyland? Memorization can do that for you. This isn’t about history timelines or dead presidents.

This is about learning skills and tools that can then be used to give yourself and your children a richer life, no matter what they do. Tools that Google Glasses cannot ever hope to provide.

It’s something worth working toward.

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Author: Purva Brown

Writer / blogger at – unapologetically blending two seeming opposites.

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