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View Diary: The need for reflection and downtime in education (18 comments)

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  •  memorizing and contemplation (1+ / 0-)
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    Lost and Found

    Thank you for this rich and thoughtful piece. I am honored that you were inspired by my piece on puttering. We agree on most points here, I think, but I'd like to comment on your points about memorization and connections.

    In my experience, memorization is much more than drilling in facts. It need not be deadening at all. Whether I am memorizing a poem, an alphabet, historical events, or a mathematical formula, I find that I understand it better as I bring it into my mind. Memorization is not only contemplative, but also interpretive; when I figure out how to remember a word or fact or string of symbols, I come to see its place in a larger picture.

    Something similar can be said about connections. One can "connect" to poems in a language one doesn't understand. The very rhythms and sounds draw one in. They don't have to map in a literal way onto one's life.

    I don't think you were talking about literal mapping when you brought up connections, but many (including some students) take the term to mean just that. They think the studies are supposed to be instantly, palpably relevant to their daily lives. Part of my work as a teacher is to help students see connections that aren't so obvious or immediately gratifying.

    Here's an example. Over the past week I have been teaching my ninth-grade students (who are studying rhetoric) about the technique of defamiliarization. We read part of an essay by Viktor Shklovsky, which examines this technique in Tolstoy's work--particularly in the story "Kholstomer," told from the point of view of a horse.

    What on earth does this have to do with an urban kid's life: a Russian critic writing about a technique in a Russian author's story about a horse? Yet something about this excited many of the students. When it came time for them to create their own examples of defamiliarization, they wrote with zest.

    It does not always work like that. Sometimes I teach a topic that seems (to me) obviously interesting and appealing, yet it falls flat. Sometimes I think it has fallen flat, but it hasn't. Sometimes I think it'll take a little coaxing to get the kids interested, but it doesn't.

    It is and isn't mysterious. One can connect to just about any meaningful subject matter, from an algebra proof to a historical document--but one must have the patience to do so. The patience may or may not be there--and there may or may not be room for it. This comes back to what you were saying about the need for reflection. If we are under continual pressure to make snap decisions and show quick results, without time for slower, more ruminative thought, then the subtler connections will be pushed aside.

    Thank you again for your piece.

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