[Milton-L] Memorization

Mike Felker mfelker at southplainscollege.edu
Mon Feb 23 15:46:37 EST 2004

I'll first point out that I'm at a community college, so the only
Milton, Shakespeare, of Chaucer we offer is as part of the World Lit or
English Lit survey courses.  I don't have the joy of teaching seniors or
graduate students majoring in English.  That said, I have mixed feelings
about requiring my students to memorize passages of poetry.  On the one
hand, they hate the process and consider it just more "English
busy-work."  Some, the brighter ones, will find satisfaction in it, and
others will later come to appreciate it, but, during the semester, few
will see the value.  I am reminded of having to memorize "Caedmon's
Hymn" as a graduate student, and complaining constantly that such
assignments were inappropriate at any college level.

On the other hand, I have recited "Caedmon's Hymn" to my World Lit
classes every semester since then as part of our discussion of the
development of the English language.  One never knows at the time when
something committed to memory will be used later down the road.  Nor
does one know in advance the pleasure of having a poem by Yeats spring
to mind in its entirety.

I can still tell you what event started World War I, and I must have
learned that somewhere around the seventh grade.  I can recite Hamlet's
soliloquy and Mark Antony's funeral oration, and those were learned in
high school many long years ago.  By comparison, my sophomores will
argue with me that I did not cover the research paper the semester
before, when they took my research paper class.  Does this generation
commit anything to long-term memory?  Do they really know how?  They
tell me all the time that they had to memorize poetry a year ago in high
school, but they cannot remember any of it now.  At times, they seem
almost proud of having forgotten everything learned in high school.
"The course is over; I won't need this anymore.  Hit 'control alt
delete' and go on."

Maybe requiring a little memorization would help to train their minds to
remember something beyond the end of that semester, especially if they
get to choose something they enjoy rather than being forced to all
memorize the same thing.  This discussion has given me a lot to think

Mike Felker

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