Yesterday, while visiting Bill Noomah’s 5th grade classroom at McNeil Canyon, his students gathered to practice their recitation of the Robert Service poem Cremation of Sam McGee. I was impressed that the group had memorized all the verses and pleased to know that they would soon recite it to some of Homer’s senior citizens. Later, I wondered how much time was devoted to this memorization and pondered, in light of the move away from rote learning, whether such an exercise is beneficial to students. I think it is.
I am convinced that because of the efficiency of search engines, some of our students’ learning does not need to include memorizing facts, e.g., how many people died in the Civil War. I feel that there is however, value for younger students to memorize passages of literature or poetry. I know that in many of our homes children memorize scripture. The benefit of such memorization for these young children is that it helps their brains establish language patterns, articulate words, expand vocabulary and use complex English syntax. You can also argue that the mental exercise of memorizing something gives a child a stronger mind. For me, the single most important responsibility of elementary education is facilitating the acquisition of literacy. The practice of memorizing a long poem is a way to help with this. It also provides a warm memory of school and the occasional chance to show off.