Defending the Reputation of Rote Learning

September 10th, 2010 by Mandi

I often talk about my education courses and how they inform my homeschooling philosophy and practice.  One place where I part ways with my education is my opinion of rote learning.  Rote learning has a bad reputation in educational circles these days.  K12 Academics pretty well sums up the impression I received of this type of learning from my instructors and texts.  They write:

Rote learning is a learning technique which avoids understanding the inner complexities and inferences of the subject that is being learned and instead focuses on memorizing the material so that it can be recalled by the learner exactly the way it was read or heard. In other words, it is learning “just for the test.

Thankfully, after some research into classical education, I appreciate the value of rote learning, and find K12′s assessment to be unfair. They totally misunderstand the purpose of memorization. As I understand it, students do not memorize facts during the grammar stage so that they can “regurgitate” them on a test. In fact, I plan to use few formal assessments in the early years. Instead, the purpose is to introduce students to the basics of each subject so that the concepts sound familiar when they delve deeper into content.  I am confident that this will help them in the later stages of our curriculum–when their brains have developed to the point where they can understand “the inner complexities and inferences.”

Memorization need not be boring, either. We have no intention of sitting our children in a chair, pointing to a chart while they mindlessly repeat our every word. Nate has written a bit about the Song School Greek and Latin that we received earlier this week. Today we also received the Math-U-See Skip Counting and Addition CD.  All are based on the same concept: using songs to help kids (and adults!) memorize the facts so integral to their understanding of material.  The instructor on the Math-U-See CD emphasizes that students must eventually know the facts independently from the songs.  That’s something we’ll work toward.  For now, we’ll keep on learning like we’ve done since our first child was born–by just having fun!