Sunday, April 10, 2011
Two things pulled me out of the pit of ignorance I had dug for myself. One was Star Wars. I was addicted to Star Wars before the era of DVDs and video rentals. The only way to satiate my ravenous desire for Star Wars between movies were Star Wars novels. My love for Star Wars overcame my disdain for reading.
The second was bible quizzing. Having become a Christian at the age of 14, I joined a bible quizzing program at my school to help me stay in "The Word" regularly. My motivation was that this would help save my soul; but, unbeknownst to me at the time, it was saving my educational ass.
Over the next 7 years I committed to memory the New Testament books of John, Acts, Romans, James, Hebrews, Peter 1 & 2, and major chunks of Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, and Philippians. The skills I developed memorizing this material, along with the intellectual elements of the bible quizzing competition, turned a dull-witted boorish boy into an armchair scholar.
It occurred to me during an education seminar I attended recently, that my students are completely bereft of the opportunity to memorize. So like myself at that age, they are woefully ignorant, with little motivation to make any change. In addition, our educational system tends to disdain memorization. Aspiring teachers are taught that making your students do anything by route and repetition will kill their love of learning; such methods are labeled "drill and kill". The most immediate and noticeable result of this ethos is that less than 10% of my 6th grade students know their multiplication facts. Knowing the positive effect memorizing had on me, I returned from that seminar motivated to get my students memorizing.
We started with the preamble to the Constitution. They groaned and moaned through the whole process. However, I did notice that they liked being able to quote it at the end. I believe being able to rattle off the material gave them a sense of accomplishment. Over the past two weeks we have been working on the first two paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence. Again, lots of groans and moans... but parallel to that is a confidence that comes with having material like that at one's disposal. I nearly fell out my chair when one of the girls in my class made an astute connection between the material she had memorized and a story we were reading!
My plan is to develop a progressive list of material for my students to memorize next year. I know I have an eclectic, and well read, group of people who read this blog; so I would be interested in any text suggestions you might have. I am assuming I would start out the beginning of the year with a short piece, one paragraph, and work towards larger pieces over the school year. I am personally weak in the area of good poetry, so those suggestions would be particularly helpful.
I am also considering the use of religious texts. I agree with Stephen Prothero that our lack of religious knowledge is detrimental to our interactions with one another. I know helpful sections from the bible, but I am in need of short, useful sections from the Quran, Bhagavad Gītā, the Tao Te Ching, etc... I think it might be interesting if I could find a common theme of goodness that each religious text addresses.
Thanks in advance for your thoughts and suggestions.
Posted by Andrew at 9:52 AM