What Role Should Memorization Play in High School Education?
Last week we asked the question, “should high school students receive a tech-heavy education”? In this article, I’d like to address a somewhat-related question about education in the context of our modern “high-tech” society.
Over the past few weeks I’ve made the argument in a couple of places (here and here for example) that education should utilize modern technology but should never lose itself in said technology.
Adapting our educational approach to the modern world as it really is leads to a question about memorization. What role (if any) does memorization play in modern high-school education?
After all, if the answers are only a Google search or ChatGPT query away, who really needs to memorize information?
In this article, I’d like to offer a nuanced perspective on the role of memorization in modern high-school education. We want to be sure to contextualize education for the needs and opportunities of modern life. We also want to retain historic benefits and educational values that have served society for years.
What We Leave Behind
We can start off by acknowledging that the internet and quick access to information has removed much of the need for memorization. There is a lot of information that can now be reached via internet search in an instant.
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For example, do students really need to have all the components of a cell memorized? Or all the kings of England during the Middle Ages? I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach these things to students. There is great benefit to teaching students science and history. But the days when success depended on packing as much information into your brain and keeping it there have passed.
Instead, as we say often at Unbound, students need to know how to succeed in a questions-based paradigm where the ability to ask the right questions is more important than the number of answers one can cram into one’s brain.
This would seem to indicate that the place of memorization in education is now defunct. But I don’t think it is completely.
What We Don’t Want to Leave Behind
Education is about more than loading the brain with information. It’s about training. And memorization actually plays an important role in training students to approach life with resilience, wisdom, and critical thinking.
Those three elements above (resilience, wisdom, and critical thinking) are much needed in any society, no less a highly-technological one. In fact, one could argue that they are needed more in a society influenced by Google, AI, etc.
As Andrew Pudewa, writing teacher and educator, reminds us, memorization doesn’t just impact our brains, it impacts our souls. What we memorize resides deeply inside us.
We don’t want to neglect this deep enculturation that comes with memorization. As a result, while we may no longer require memorization of tables and timelines we still need to have a place for memorization in education. This applies to high-school education as well.
It is a matter of what and why we memorize. We don’t memorize for quick information recall since our smartphones and AI chatbots have largely taken that role. We memorize value-focused content instead of just information. This category would include things like Scripture, poetry, great oratory from history, etc. And we memorize them because we want to shape values in our high schoolers, not just cram in information.
Besides numerous neurological benefits of rote memorization there is a special benefit for values-based education. Memorizing something “by heart” helps to internalize values for students.
The technology around us has made it largely unnecessary to memorize complex formulas, timelines, or other data sets. But the need for internalizing values has not expired. Therefore, a high school education should utilize memorization towards values-learning, not academic learning.
Interested in learning more about Unbound’s high school programs? Check out Equip for 9th-11th grade and Explore for 12th grade. Schedule a free consultation to learn more about these programs and to check your student’s eligibility.
Jace Bower is the Marketing Coordinator for Unbound. An Unbound alumnus, he has experienced firsthand the powerful advantages of doing college differently and participating in an intentional community. Jace graduated with his bachelor’s degree in History in 2016 and has worked in restaurant management and marketing since then. He also served on the Unbound Student Cabinet in 2019.
The author of two books and a semi-regular blogger, Jace can often be found doing something with words. When he’s not, chances are he’s reading about theology, listening to music, or playing pool or tennis with his wife Shannon in their Virginia home.