By Heart

I’m sure that one day we’ll all get brain implants that will whisper in our ears all the things we want to remember. As it is, we’re stuck with unimproved gray matter.

Fortunately, memorization seems to be getting less important these days, if you believe educational progressives. Today we don’t need to actually remember anything. We have Google.

The sum of all knowledge can be found on the internet — if you know what to look for. Teaching kids how to make good searches is worthwhile; teaching them to evaluate information is even better.

A few years ago I would have replied, “Yeah, but we don’t carry the internet around with us all the time. What happens when you’re away from the computer?” That argument is dead; now we all carry phones that can Google.

Unfortunately, Google can’t think for us.

In my classroom, I’m asking when Julius Caesar was murdered. Twenty kids whip out phones and start touching tiny keyboards. The one with the quickest connection wins.

Now I’m asking, ‘What would be different if he hadn’t been murdered?’ Twenty blank looks. How do we Google that?

Rote memorization is on the educational blacklist, and has been for some time. I teach Latin, which gives me an excuse to be medieval. I would feel comfortable in the 5th century, huddling over a desk, copying manuscripts. I can make my students memorize things because “that’s the way Latin has always been taught.” Since Latin is already considered ‘dead wood’ by many educators, using obsolete methods to teach it doesn’t really annoy them.

The students who arrive in my classroom have never had to memorize anything – not even their own phone numbers. More

O Xmas Tree

When I saw it standing there, between the poinsettias and the plastic lawn Bambis, I had to have it. No strings of lights to get tangled, no needles to vacuum up. It didn’t have any smell, but that’s what scented candles are for. I could imagine folding it up and carrying it down to the basement until next year.
Tonight I sit on the couch in the dark, gazing at its tiny, winking lights, remembering how we dragged the boys through the woods every year to find the perfect tree. It never was. But it always smelled wonderful.

Northern Girls

toilet-roll-300x300We lie in the back of the car and play submarine.  Jamie has a periscope made out of mirrors and a milk carton. We take turns using it to see out of the back window.  No one comes.  There is nothing to look at.

“Want to see something?” Jamie asks.

I follow him over to his house, upstairs to Chuckie’s room. There is a small cage on the desk, full of wood shavings. Jamie reaches into the cage and picks up a handful of small pink things.  When he holds out his hand to me I see that they are baby rats —hairless, their eyes shut tight.  “He named it Mickey, but then it had babies.” The baby rats writhe, but make no sounds.  They look like fat pink worms, wiggling around in his palm.  I extend my finger, feel a rubbery body.  None of them is bigger than my pinkie. More

In Mind

homer poetThe rhapsodes of ancient Greece were not poets; they were rememberers. They recited the poems of Homer from memory, for an audience. It seems like an incredible feat. How could anyone remember so many lines of verse? The Odyssey has over 12,000 lines of dactylic hexameter; the Iliad contains nearly 16,000.

The poems were composed orally, before writing was common, and were preserved for centuries by the rhapsodes, one generation teaching it to the next. Think of the scene at the end of Fahrenheit 451, where people have become living books, and as they grow old, pass on their words to a new generation.

But it’s hard to imagine a world where you can’t just write down what you need to remember or look up what you’ve forgotten. More

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