The Higher Thinking of Memorization

What is it to inwardly digest an idea?
What does it take?
Who is leading the thought?
As the gifted education specialist at my public elementary school, critical thinking is what I tote and promote. I nurture lucid dialogue. Lawful thought is the valued exchange currency. Within that exchange comes student choice; student direction: valued student input. The point is for students to step beyond rote, pre-processed, banter resulting in a regurgitation of words. The results enrich.

Research writing poses a particular challenge to the teaching of critical thought. The point of research is to highlight the ideas of others, so where is the critique? The specific, systematic skills required to find and present research often taps-out student stamina and interest in lock-step projects. Many students reach “their all” by their time to put it all together.

Teaching students to watch for surprising connections in the research they are reviewing, and to seek out the if…thens and the therefores draws on their critical thought. These thoughtful connections are often youthful, silly notions at first, but with guidance, insightful relevance becomes valued more than giggles.

With references displayed, students develop the habit of seeking, finding and expressing the surprising connections. That is the value they add. Over time and practice, they come to expect new thoughts, new connections of themselves, and their projects stay interesting.

So what, now, of memorization? Students need endpoints to connect. The research process lays those endpoints out, and they have learned to connect the referenced endpoints relevantly. Once students establish the habit of making new connections as a matter of course, they are ready to notice the information in their heads as relevant connection endpoints. It is time to put “text-to-self” to work. It is time to make an ongoing, informal research paper of their lives.

With a battery of learned prose memorized, student potential to make new, relevant connections expands exponentially. The students become more interesting, and more interesting to themselves as they recognize the value they add. I am all for students memorizing material, but not as an endpoint in itself. As an endpoint to connect surprisingly to the world around them. This is what it means to inwardly digest ideas, and this is what it takes, and the students learn to lead their thought with well-referenced, well-known endpoints.

In the words of Marquis de Vauvenargues, “Les grandes pensées viennent du coeur.” That is, “The greatest thoughts come from the heart,” and herein is a recipe.

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