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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Really useful things we learned without understanding

Education's a political football. The arguments around it are always depressingly binary. Today it's about promoting the value of rote learning. The counter-argument is that committing facts or words to memory without understanding; a) is without value; b) somehow gets in the way of so-called creative thinking.

I'm a sample of one but many of the most useful things I know I learned by rote, often without understanding. These include:

  • Multiplication tables
  • The alphabet
  • The words of William Blake's "Jerusalem" (and subsequently a million pop records)
  • Wilfred Owen's "Strange Meeting", TS Eliot's "Journey Of The Magi", the beginning of Macaulay's "Lays Of Ancient Rome" and half a dozen speeches from Shakespeare
  • The words of at least twenty hymns
  • The capital cities of the countries considered significant when I went to school
  • "I before e except after c when the sound is ee"
  • "Thirty days hath November etc"
  • "Willie willie harry stee etc"
Have I, er, forgotten anything?