Mon. May 16th, 2022

 

This semester for the first time, Professor Michael Pearson of the Communications department at West Chester University has incorporated the New York Times Bestseller, “Moonwalking with Einstein” by Joshua Foer into his COM 405 argumentation and debate curriculum. What begins as a simple participant article for journalist Foer turns into an unexpected journey through his own brain. When he sets out in pursuit of the smartest man on earth, he finds himself in the midst of memory championships. 

Though the novel remains fairly lighthearted, it brings to light some important questions about today’s educational system. Long ago, students were taught in a regimented fashion virtually shunned in the United States today. Their focus was on memorization of not only important facts and numbers, but also classic poems and cultural writings. To be well cultured was to be able to retain as much information as possible. 

In the modern world, facts, figures, poems, and writings are available in  books as well as online to be searched and accessed immediately. Because of this memorization has virtually disappeared from the educational system. Perhaps in some cases, students are still expected to memorize a certain amount – at least long enough to pass their next big test. However, even in these cases, students complain teachers have unrealistic expectations or the information they are learning is unimportant.

 Proof of this phenomenon lurks around every corner. TV shows like “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” mock the lack of common knowledge in the adult population today.  An article by Rachel Quigley in March 2011 states that 29 percent of Americans could not so much as name the vice president of the United States. 

Instead of going to school to learn information, students go to school to learn how to synthesize information. Even at the university level, students are often expected to gain more intelligence from the experience of school  rather than from the information presented in the classes. To some extent, this experiential learning makes sense. In a world where information is so easily accessible, rote memorization serves as not much more than a novel trick. Nevertheless, to be an expert in any field, some amount of memorization is an absolute necessity.

Foer argues, “Memory and intelligence go hand in hand,” explaining the more we know, the better we are able to attach new information to the information we already know. In other words, remembering old things makes it easier to learn new things. “The more we remember, the better we are at processing the world. And the better we are at processing the world, the more we can remember about it,” proceeds Foer. Schools cannot teach students to synthesize information and think critically about the world around them if those students are incapable of remembering that information to begin with.

Professor Micheal Pearson cites two reasons for incorporating “Moonwalking with Einsteien” into his curriculum. His first and purely academic reason is, “as a rhetorician I still value the five canons of rhetoric which includes memory,” and secondly, “In a world filled with personal digital devices, people are becoming more and more dependent on technology for something as simple as phone numbers, addresses, and names.” Pearson continues, “While [personal digital devices]play important roles in storing that data, I believe it will benefit my students to exercise their memory abilities even for something as simple as names.”

At some point, now or later, students will surely need to rely on their memories for something.  Even though classes no longer require the memorization of easily referenced material, professors hope the big concepts they teach will stick with their students in the future. Most West Chester students will admit classes and tests are easier if you can remember what you learned from the beginning of the class, as well as material from other classes. So why do schools treat students’ memories like innate capabilities that will learn to function on their own? Why do schools not teach students to expand their memory capacities? 

I am not suggesting  teachers waste class time by stressing students out over unnecessary large scale memorization of facts that could otherwise be simply looked up. Instead, primary level schools should incorporate memory technique into curriculum for children so that by the time students reach the high school and college levels, they are already able to learn more and learn it faster. It is time that as a society we stop treating our memories like black holes that cannot be improved and begin learning to train them as the tools they really are.

Joy Wilson is a fourth-year student majoring in communications with a minor in studio art. She can be reached at JW794401@wcupa.edu.

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