28 mars 2012

"Rote learning" (Critical Guide, E. D. Hirsch Jr)

   The phrase "rote learning" is often followed by the phrase "of mere facts." The practice of rote learning dates back to the now-little-used method of asking a whole class to recite in unison set answers to set questions - whether or not the students know what their recitations mean. That practice has all but disappeared. 
    When present-day educators have been asked what they now mean by the phrase "rote learning," they respond variously that it means "spouting words" without understanding their meaning, or memorizing items without understanding them, or learning a lot of isolated facts. They object that rote memorization breeds a passive and uncritical attitude in students, who, as we all hope, will grow up to be independent-minded citizens. 
    All of these objections to rote learning have validity. It is better to encourage the integrated understanding of knowledge over the merely verbal repetition of separate facts. It is better for students to think for themselves than merely to repeat what they have been told. For all of these reasons, rote learning is inferior to learning that is internalized and can be expressed in the student's own words. 

   These valid objections to purely verbal, fragmented, and passive education have, however, been used as a blunt instrument to attack all emphasis on factual knowledge and vocabulary. 
   Some purely rote learning is, for example, indispensable to learning the words of one's own language, since there is rarely a nonarbitrary reason why particular names are attached to particular things in the world. Nor is there any very meaningful reason why English spelling should use "i" before "e" except after "c" or when sounded as "a" as in "neighbor" or "weigh." Or why "thirty days bath September." Yet it is highly useful to rote-learn those and many other helpful facts. 
   The way things have been learned, whether by rote or other means, very often drops entirely out of memory. Psychologists distinguish "episodic" memory, which may be short-lived, and "semantic" memory, which is very durable. The episode of learning is insecurely stored in volatile episodic memory; hence, it often doesn't matter exactly how things are learned, so long as they are learned. 
   In the progressive tradition, the attack on rote learning (timely in 1918) has been used to attack factual knowledge and memorization, to the great disadvantage of our children's academic competencies. 


Antipathy to subject-matter content  


"banking theory of schooling" 
"culturally-biased curriculum" 
"outcomes-based education" 
"research has shown"
"self-esteem"


 

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                          ------------------------------------------ 
 
This was an excerpt from Hirsch's great book on education :
The Schools We Need 
 and Why We Don't Have Them.
Recension by Richard Askey :  
http://mathematicallycorrect.com/hirsch.htm  
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