In a society that does not believe that there is any absolute truth or authority, it's only logical that modern teachers think memorizing is unnecessary: they have nothing to memorize! Hopefully, Christians who live 2,000 years into Christian history and who inherit a tradition of divine revelation and inspired learning that dates back to the beginning of time, know better. In the CLAA, we do.
The study and teaching of history's wisest and best men has been given to us to master and the most efficient way to learn most of what is available is by memorization. In fact, I have often found that when my older students enter into studies for which memorization is not longer required, they ask me to give them memory work because they KNOW it's the best way to learn.
So, how do I recommend students go about memorizing lessons?
1. Don't be Stupid
First, before we get into so silly debate about how to memorize good information, let's acknowledge that our children are going to memorize lots of bad information in theiri lives. They will memorize bad jokes, worldly songs, sports stats, silly stores, and much, much more. They will memorize it because they know knowledge is useful and memorization allows them to gain and keep the knowledge they want.
How do they memorize bad information?
First, they are persuaded that the knowledge will bring some benefit. They want to sing the songs with other kids at school, or act out the scenes with their friends. Knowing all the words will be cool. Whatever the benefit may be, they believe the knowledge will do them good.
Second, they learn it by repetition. Do they watch their favorite shows once, or until they "understand" them? No. Do they listen to their favorite songs until they can explain them "in their own words"? No. Rather, they repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat until they can recite every line and sing every verse. There's no problem memorizing bad stuff.
They know how to memorize. It's actually easy.
2. Establish the Motivation
No, it's not reasonable to expect a 7 year old boy who wants to climb trees and play ball to sit and memorize Latin verb conjugations or lengthy catechism questions. That knowledge is a long-term benefit that an unreasonable child cannot appreciate. That's why good parents and schoolmasters are necessary. Artificial, short-term rewards must be used to motivate early learning. I recommend using a generous points and rewards system--the more generous the better.
As said above, we understand that recitation is the key to memorization. It's not all that there is, as we'll see, but it's the necessary work of memorization. The method is simple, just like learning a bad song.
Let's memorize the declension of the first example Latin noun, musa.
In the singular: Nominative, musa, a muse; | Genitive, musae, of a muse; | Dative, musae, to a muse; | Accusative, musam, a muse; | Vocative, O musa, O muse; | Ablative, a musa, from a muse. | In the plural: Nominative, musae, muses; | Genitive, musarum, of muses; | Dative, musis, to muses; | Accusative, musas, muses; | Vocative, O musae, O muses; | Ablative, a musis, from muses.
As you can see, I have broken the work to be memorized into parts with red lines. We will begin by reading through the entire piece--perhaps a few times through until we are familiar with the content. Then, begin reciting the first piece until memorized:
In the singular: Nominative, musa, a muse;
When that is memorized (it will not take long), we should read again the entire work to be memorized. Then, add the second piece to the first and recite all until memorized:
In the singular: Nominative, musa, a muse; | Genitive, musae, of a muse;
When that is memorized (it will not take long), we should read again the entire work to be memorized. Then, add the third piece to the others and recite all until memorize. Continue this until all is, at last memorized.
Note that points and rewards can be added for each part to make the work light and pleasant.
4. Allow Understanding to Help
The first lessons must be memorized quite coldly, but as you move into the next lessons, understanding will begin to help with the memory work as it continues. For example, the second noun to be memorized is now familiar:
In the singular: Nominative, dominus, a lord; | Genitive, domini, of a lord; | Dative, domino, to a lord; | Accusative, dominum, a lord; | Vocative, O domine, O lord; | Ablative, a domino, from a lord. | In the plural: Nominative, domini, lords; | Genitive, dominorum, of lords; | Dative, dominis, to lords; | Accusative, dominos, lords; | Vocative, O domini, O lords; | Ablative, a dominis, from lords.
There is less to coldly memorize this time around, is there not? There is work to be done, but it is lighter--and lighter still is it made by the motivation received from past success and the continued help of generous points and rewards.
As time goes on the child's memory strengthens, the routine becomes comfortable and the speed of the work increases. When that happens, the student will have learned how to learn--the most important of all lessons.
William Michael, Headmaster
Classical Liberal Arts Academy