School Probs: Memorization and Understanding

According to some of my teachers, their lessons will be a matter of life and death. Unfortunately, I’ve already forgotten, so I can’t confirm.

Learning can be split into a few levels. Firstly there is the level of memorization, followed by the levels of understanding and application. Memorization is, unsurprisingly, the lowest of these levels with understanding being on a much higher plane of learning. As such, learning via memorization takes far less time than learning by understanding.

Perhaps then it is not surprising to recognize that schools focus far more on memorization then than on understanding. It is more time efficient that way, allowing them to cover more material.

Yet I’ve always heard teachers complaining that their students forget half of what they learned every year following summer break. I would pose that schools should encourage less memorization and more understanding, axing the content that can not be covered.

As much as I enjoy writing classes, I have always found it tedious how the majority demand outside sources backing every claim. It seems that the majority can never trust me nor my reasoning. I can claim the sky is blue, because everybody knows that, but I can’t claim that homework is negatively impactful, not without expert opinion. Come on classes!

These restrictions might be put in place in an attempt to force students to thoroughly research their topic. A worthwhile goal. But in a subtle way this is also teaching students to not depend upon themselves to construct their own opinions, but rather pay attention to the claims of the majority and the self entitled experts. Argumentative papers should be critiqued on the arguments provided not on the sources provided.

Many quotable people hold just as much background in subjects as do the student’s quoting them. Of course that is not always true, but many times famous quotes are treated as pure gold when they foster an inherent contradiction. Just because someone famous said something, does not make it right.

Admittedly, schools have required curriculum and most teachers, and textbooks, seem to believe that the more words they can speak each class the better. And while some classes occupy their time with describing Peggy Eaton, some classrooms are better natured in that they try to explain why most American history books mention some Peggy Eaton. Besides her being one of relatively few notable females.

Even then though, shouldn’t students have the opportunity to reflect on why certain things matter and how certain things work themselves? Without their hands being held and them being taught a bullet list of why events mattered?

If we let student’s think for themselves, would it really be that harmful? Even if they dodge a bullet or two, if they made their own list, understand their own list, they would surely remember the content better.

In mathematics, where understanding is vital, most teachers write out the solution on the wipe board step by step. They then ask students to copy these steps. Few students sit back to contemplate how those steps work and why they solve the problem, and the student’s don’t have time to, not with the number of problems assigned on their math homework. Student’s understanding of mathematics only catches up to them when they enter pre-calculus and calculus, where earlier concepts are built upon. Oh well. Math isn’t that important anyways. We’ve all seen those “Another day without using Algebra” bumper stickers right?

Memorization, memorization, memorization. Whatever happened to school teaching students how to think. Memorization isn’t thinking. Oh, you meant brain washing. Ok.

Nonetheless, memorization is important, else alzheimer’s would not be feared. But memorization is less important than understanding, and far more temporary.

Understanding allows for genuine thought, for new ideas, for concepts to be applied. Einstein did not stop at memorizing his physics formulas for his tests, but understood the concepts and expanded upon them with his theory of relativity.

Times are changing. Perhaps in the past memorization was as important as schools treat it, but the internet exists now. Information used to cost so much more, but now information can be accessed freely by all. This is wonderful progress, but schools are not keeping up with this change.

Memorization and understanding can be imagined on the opposite sides of a scale. When the value of memorization decreases as access to information increases, that weighs down the importance of understanding.

The internet is devaluing memorization. School, if it is worth all the money thrown at it, should therefore focus more upon understanding. Understanding is difficult and takes time, perhaps this is why it is worth so much more than memorizing when information can be accessed instantly.

And again, admittedly understanding is rarely necessary. Most jobs do not require new and innovative thought. Many tasks can be completed in a mechanical method. Even if the more advanced tasks require a mathematical equation, this is still hardly original.

Nonetheless, education should focus more on understanding than on memorizing. This is the way of the future.