(The following is an article I wrote for our school's newsletter.)
Have you ever wondered how presidents and statesmen delivered their speeches before the TelePrompTer? Well, they just read from their notes, right? Actually, they did not. They wrote their speeches out, but they often committed them to memory for the delivery. Memorization was but one of the many tools that education gave students in the past. In a day when everything we need to know is stored on our smart phone, the idea of memorizing large amounts of material almost seems magical.
I recently purchased a book by Andrew Campbell entitled Living Memory. It is a “compendium of material for students to memorize during their school years.” In the introduction Campbell shares a proverb that says, “Everything I own, I carry with me.” A moment’s reflection brings us to the realization that our “stuff” comes and goes, but what we learn stays with us. Even if we don’t remember everything verbatim, the effect memorizing has on our minds is lasting. Memorization is an indispensable tool for the educated mind.
That brings us the the question of how. Campbell gives a compelling analysis of the process of memorization; let me share some highlights. He points out that we learn language in a predictable pattern- hearing, speaking, reading and writing, and, he says, we must follow that same pattern for memorization. Many exercises utilize more than one of these. For example, dictation provides listening, speaking (repeating what has been dictated), and writing. Reading should be done out loud, even if in a whisper. Speaking can include chanting (rhythmic recitation) and singing. Each of these exercises are important for memorization, and only when we use all four will we get over the common claim, “I just can’t memorize.” Oh, and one more thing. Daily practice. As the Latin proverb goes, Repetitio mater memoriae, Repetition is the mother of memory.