Getting students to memorize -- with ease
Claremont, Calif. — I am not sure when the memory is at its peak, and this probably differs among individuals. But of one thing I am sure. It seems stronger in one's earlier years than it is in the later.
The application of this knowledge to education is obvious, but I doubt it is made use of fully. What I have in mind is getting students to memorize while memorizing is still easy for them.
As early as possible, I suggest that teachers write on the blackboard a quotation from the Bible or Shakespeare or Lincoln or Anonymous or whatever source.Students can be asked to write down or recite the quotation a week or so later.
Depending on the grade level and intelligence level of the students in the class, a new quotation might be written on the board once a day or every other day or once a week. When it is inscribed, the teacher might comment on it, consider its application to life, and say something about its source.
This can be done briefly. The time taken with the quotation may vary. Students may be asked for their comments. How this is handled depends on the teacher and the nature and subject matter of the course. It could be in an elementary class, in high school, in college, even in graduate school -- but while memorizing is still easy.
Because of the church-and-state quibble (call it more than that if you like), one of these days posting the Golden Rule may be banned from the classroom. But "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you" is a moral, practical, common sense quotation that should be implanted in the mind early -- and discussed.
In fact the Golden Rule is not far removed in thought from those lines by Robert Burns that also deserve to be remembered, whether or not in Burn's Scottish dialect or eccentric spelling, which can also be commented on: Oh wad some Pow'r the giftie gie usm To see oursels as others see us!m
Sometimes only the most famous part of a famous quotation might be offered for memorization.Here are two of the most remarkable parts of two of Abraham Lincoln's many wise statements. This is the first:
"Let us have faith that right makes might. . . ." And this is the second: "With malice toward none; with charity for all. . . ."
Each teacher will know how long a quotation the members of a particular class can learn -- and, it is to be hoped, never forget.
One of the easiest types of quotation to remember is one written in a couplet. The word at the end of one line rhymes with the word at the end of the next line, and thus gives the memorizer a hint. Alexander Pope wrote almost everything in couplets, which may be why he is so much quoted in "Bartlett's Familiar Quotations," quantitatively coming right after the Bible and Shakespeare and about even with John Milton.
Two quotations were fastened to my mind many years ago. My memory being what it is, I can't remember whether I learned them from a teacher or from my own teaching or reading. Neither is in "Bartlett's Familiar Quotations," or I could tell you their authorship.
One, that has been a great help to me, is:
"What bends, doesn't break." In my book, "Our Presidents," I made use of this in my last two lines about Woodrow Wilson, whose failure to compromise with the Senate lost us the League of Nations, although he had been one of its architects. Here are my lines, which I am not asking you to remember or to require students to memorize: And, stiffly stubborn to the end,m He broke because he wouldn't bend.m
Wilson broke indeed. He suffered a paralytic stroke and was crippled the rest of his term and the few remaining years of his life. But he himself left us a quotation to remember:
"Ideas live; men die." His idea lives on in the United Nations.
Something else I cannot remember is the author of a quotation that lingers with me and has helped me. Again, I may have learned it in school or, more likely in this instance, I may have discovered it myself.
All I know is that it was a sentence in a letter written by an 18th-century English physician, advising his son on how to make his way in the world. Here is the quotation, and if I were still teaching I would write it on the blackboard and make certain that my students memorized it:
"He is n ot laughed at who laughs at himself first."