Memorization has fallen out of favor in much of contemporary education, but here at St. Jerome we are dedicated to reviving the tradition of “learning by heart” as an essential part of a deep and lasting education. Students here are memorizing poetry, history timelines, Latin vocabulary, grammar rules, geography facts and Scripture.
A myth of memorization is that it must be “dry” or “dead” learning, but nothing could be further from the truth. As Dorothy Sayers explained in her famous lecture, “The Lost Tools of Learning,” young students in the “grammar” years take delight in memorization. Memory work can be committed to song or learned in the form of a chant or jingle. It can be done standing and with actions. When done well, it resembles play for the young students who love to know and name the world they encounter.
St. Jerome classes certainly showcase how memorization can be engaging and delightful. In a stroll down the hallways, we might see Mrs. Giefer’s class standing and grinning as they nail a timeline song that outlines American history and requires students to memorize several facts, such as a list of all thirteen original colonies. In Mrs. Berthiaume’s class, we might see her eager students chanting Psalm 27 or singing an outline of Ancient history, pointing to a wall timeline and calling out with enthusiasm dates and information on topics ranging from the founding of Rome, to the Persian Wars or the reign of Julius Caesar.
Here is Ms. Ruhnke’s Kindergarten class in song.
It’s clear they like to sing! And it is through song and actions that these students have committed to memory what God accomplished on each of the six days of creation. They are also working on a timeline song that includes an outline of Old Testament history. If we were to step into Ms. Ruhnke’s class during their song, we would see how engaging memorization can be for these little St. Jerome Lions. Great work, Kindergarten!
And this memory work isn’t just engaging, but beneficial. When something good or beautiful is internalized, our mind becomes richer. We have something in our storehouse that cannot be depleted. It is this rich storehouse that allows us to be creative, to write persuasively, or to build on wisdom from the past. Memorization also allows for future learning. Any subject requires knowledge of the fundamentals before more complex knowledge of it can be grasped. Memorization is great brain training as well. Students who memorize are also better able to grasp complex ideas and think quickly.
So bring on the memory work! And stay tuned for next week’s post to learn more about one subject that requires a lot of memorization—Latin!