Once upon a time children went to school and memorized poems. They memorized state capitals, multiplication tables, and presidents. They memorized chemical elements, French verb conjugations, and parts of speech. They memorized a lot. Those days aren’t completely gone, but they have certainly changed.
Trends in education have shifted away from rote memorization to concept development and understanding, and in most cases I believe that’s a good thing. If something is important enough to memorize, students should understand its importance. There is also a feeling that we live in an age where information is available at our fingertips through technology, so memorization isn’t so important anymore. Again, in most cases I would agree.
Personally, I don’t think that schoolchildren need to memorize all 50 state capitals, but they should know what a state capital is, how to identify it on a map, and the capital of their home state. My reason? It’s not something that comes up that often in real life for most people.
To me, that’s the key. If there is information that kids will need to access frequently, they should commit it to memory. Yes, it takes time to memorize certain things, like when to use which form of too, to, and two, but that is something that comes up frequently in adult life, and most people won’t take the time to look it up if they don’t know it. They end up misusing words and frankly, looking uneducated, even if they are extremely intelligent.
That brings me to multiplication tables. I teach fourth grade. Fourth graders need to know these. I don’t mean be able to figure them out (they should have the understanding of the concept by now) but actually be able to spit out correct answers when asked simple multiplication problems. In my school, which is an excellent school, nearly one in three kids are still unable to do this by the end of fourth grade. It’s maddening.
Simple multiplication is a skill that you need for life. Yes, you can pull out a calculator, but for goodness sake, you should know that 7 x 4 = 28 without the help of technology or your fingers. I am not opposed to progress, and I certainly want children to understand the concepts they are taught, but at some point it’s time to pull out the flashcards and memorize the facts. That point is now.
Now I’m off to school to coordinate the three ring circus of activities designed to assist kids with this crucial skill. Parents, please help me out with this one, the kids need more practice. If they can memorize Minecraft strategies and Taylor Swift lyrics, they can memorize the 9 times table, I guarantee it.
May 12, 2015 at 7:17 am
My white-haired fifth grade teacher, who was 5 foot nothing, marched up and down the rows of desks and shouted multiplication questions at us like a drill sergeant. She scared the pants off me, but I can still multiply. 🙂
May 12, 2015 at 8:50 pm
She sounds scary. My scary math teacher was in 7th grade. He wasn’t a scary person, but he when would say, “On your feet, Miss W,” or “to the board, Miss W” my blood would run cold. I can do basic algebra, though.
May 12, 2015 at 11:21 am
Would you care to know where my extreme math anxiety came from? The times tables. We had to stand in line before entering the cafeteria for lunch and answer a problem correctly otherwise everyone behind us had to wait until we got it right. Talk about pressure! I terrified of math, especially in public, but I have those memorized.
May 12, 2015 at 8:48 pm
Oh that does sound terribly stressful. I try to have my kids practice them in ways that are less threatening. We do more game types of drills, plus good old flashcards. Sorry you still have a math phobia, that’s a real shame.
May 12, 2015 at 5:56 pm
As my sixth grade algebra teacher used to say, when we pass her class we can use a calculator all we like, but if we want to pass, we’d better be able to prove we don’t need a calculator to figure it out.
May 12, 2015 at 8:51 pm
I think that’s a reasonable approach to take.
May 13, 2015 at 5:57 pm
You’re right. Memorization of some things that will add quality to life is valuable. Multiplication tables, beautiful poetry, influential quotes, etc. keep on giving for a lifetime!
May 13, 2015 at 9:45 pm
Thanks for chiming in, Angie. 🙂