On Classical Education: Repetition is the Mother of Memory

From Baby Steps:

Between the time I’ve been spending working on Scripture Memory Work ideas for By Study and Faith, and listening to various podcasts dealing with memory work and recitation, and also doing our first effort at having end of term exams, I’ve been thinking a lot about memory and memory work lately. In listening to Dr. Perrin’s lecture, Education and Memory: Repetitio Mater Memoriae, one of the striking things he said, paraphrasing John L. Gregory’s book, The Seven Laws of Teaching, is this:

The last law is the law of repetition, the Law of Review… he says, “knowledge has been thought into the minds of the pupils, and it lies there in greater or less completeness, to feed thought, to guide and modify conduct and to form character, what more is needed after we have taught children? The teacher’s work seems to be ended, but difficult work remains, perhaps the most difficult. All that has been accomplished lies hidden in the minds of pupils, and lies there as a potency, rather than as a possession. What process shall fix into active habits the thought potencies which have been evolved? What shall mould into permanent ideals the conceptions that have been gained? … The law of confirmation and of ripening of results may be expressed as follows: the completion, test, and confirmation of the work of teaching must be made by review and application.” And he says that, unless we are reviewing, we’re really not teaching. He says that we should be reviewing as much as one third of the time. That’s how important it is, to make learning permanent.

…The reason that we return to the classics -or to scripture- is that there’s more there than can be learned in an afternoon. If, in looking at the Bible, we say, “Oh, yes, I read that,” and then think that we are done, we have missed the most beautiful things scripture has to teach us: it is only through returning and rereading, pondering, and letting it soak into us, that we begin to understand its teachings. Likewise, it is foolishness to think that, after a single sheet of math facts our child has mastered them. Sure, he can show comprehension of a math topic in a single afternoon, but if we think we are done and never revisit the exercise then it’s not going to stick. The learning will not be permanent, and he will not be able to call upon it to assist with later, more complected problems.

…Our use of repetition needs to be aimed to assist them to learn to love the truth that we are teaching, to assist them to see the beauty in the regularity of the patterns of mathematics, the wonders of the natural world, the heritage of beauty we share in the folk songs or classical music and art. It’s ok if they don’t start out loving math; part of the purpose of education is to order the affections, to learn to love the truth — and math is full of truth. If loving the good, the true, and the beautiful  always came naturally we wouldn’t need to be educated!


Read the rest at Baby Steps.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *