I have always bristled at adults who seem to think education simply means memorizing right answers. When I was a young reporter and watched someone like Sen. Robert C. Byrd show off his rote memorization of a Cicero speech, I confess, my thoughts ran something like, "How quaint," even as I marveled at the feat.
We modern educated people know that simply remembering someone else's words in order does not signify any deeper understanding.
Fortunately for me, I had teachers and parents who believed that students should understand how they arrive at their answers. They taught us how to find answers. They taught us that new discoveries tomorrow might change what we think today. They valued getting the right answer for the right reason, but enough of the time, they also valued what could be learned from getting the wrong answer for a logical reason. To a great degree, they believed you need to memorize only what you need instantly and often -- multiplication tables, lie vs. lay, the roles of the three branches of government.
Yet, even they occasionally insisted that we memorize things -- arithmetical formulas, for sure (although later we had to master proofs before we could use properties and theorems). Once in a while, we even had to memorize passages of literature. I groaned. What was the point? But I complied:
"By the rude bridge that arched the flood, their flag to April's breeze unfurled. Here once the embattled farmers stood and fired the shot heard 'round the world."
I did it, but I didn't respect it. Memorizing passages was a tiresome inconvenience, a relic of 19th-century education, back there with one-room schoolhouses, slates and sewing samplers. It was probably something teachers made us do because they had to do it when they were young. (They must have been 40 if they were a day.)
But at some point, I changed. I have grown a respect, even a fondness, for the discipline of memorization.
It happened so gradually I can scarcely say when, but I think a significant shift must have occurred many years ago during a "Read to Me Day" at Sharon Dawes Elementary School. Then-librarian Elaine Anderson recruited volunteers to rotate through the grades all day, reading books to students.
At the end of reading to some fifth-graders, we had only a couple minutes, not enough time to start another book, but just enough time to ask students what they were studying.