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.