[Milton-L] Further controversial memory techniques ...

John Rochelle johnrochellejohn at yahoo.com
Tue Feb 24 08:13:06 EST 2004


No piano teacher in the world would hesitate to assign memory work to her students.  
 
Students would memorize and practice redundantly scales, chords, and songs.
 
There is no feigning hard work.  
 
Emerson says, "Familiar as the voice of the mind is to each, the highest merit we
ascribe to Moses, Plato, and Milton is that they set at naught books and traditions,
and spoke not what men but what they thought."
 
Santana says he listens to Coltrane, not to other guitarists.  
 
Among other objectives, I would hope that English teachers want to put their students
in touch with the aboriginal primeval song of verbal expression, the convulsion of tongue and jaw, with breath and meditative thought, that launches creative mind beyond itself.  
 
I do not assign students to write out lines of poetry by hand, unless they want to waste time in another class ... I assign them to hunker down and memorize songs, i.e., thirty or eighty lines of dazzling stuff from Milton, Shakespeare, Keats, Hopkins, or even Browning (Toccata Galuppi) or Eliot (Little Gidding) or Thomas (Fern Hill).  Showing me they've mastered the words is step one.  Then we can riff.  
 
Teachers cannot flinch from this discipline.  When we flinch, we cannot assign what needs to be done to get to this level.  Standing there and reciting a few stanzas of something is always impressive, and inspires them.  Especially when we've taken it upon ourselves, as adults, to master these texts; and are not relying on what our tenth-grade English teacher assigned to us, himself perhaps half-educated and croaking out what he learned in 1910, because his English teacher hadn't the fortitude to master PL.  ...   This is original sin, propagating from one generation to the next half-truths and labyrinthine denials and excuses, convoluted with quaint recollections of stuff three-quarters learned by rote, heart, or hand ... 
 
Plus, someone here observed that about 1 in 160 really cannot do it.  That's about right, in my experience.  Some students just cannot memorize texts.  Most can, even "slow" ones (ask the class flake how many phone numbers, song lyrics, web sites, television schedules, and email addresses he or she has at the tip of her memory). When the teacher is excited, the students will be excited too.  Having students master a few poems, and rehearse them over and over again during the semester solidifies this knowledge.  They will give you high fives in their hearts forever.  They will earn an A on the memorization assignment, and feel superior to their non-memorizing classmates in other sections.  Plus, of course, they will have this jazzy cool stuff bouncing around in their bones. We may not be able to play guitar like Santana, but we can say The Windhover and hear the music more deeply each time.  That's something.   
 
John Rochelle
Independent Scholar

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Today's Topics:

1. RE: memorization (Paula Loscocco)
2. Re: Memorization (gilliaca at jmu.edu)
3. Re: Memorization (gilliaca at jmu.edu)
4. Withdrawal (verulan at mindspring.com)
5. Re: Memorization (James Rovira)
6. Re: Memorization (gilliaca at jmu.edu)
7. Re: Memorization (kathryn jackson)
8. Re: Memorization (James Rovira)


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Message: 1
Date: Mon, 23 Feb 2004 19:21:17 -0500 (EST)
From: Paula Loscocco 

Subject: RE: [Milton-L] memorization
To: 
Message-ID: <4565.66.65.55.241.1077582099.squirrel at mail.slc.edu>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=iso-8859-1

I don't always make my students memorize passages, but model & encourage
them to do so, and I do make them do "dramatic readings" of scenes in
*PL*, which almost always results in spontaneous memorization. (The most
compelling example was the year two members of the football team took on
the Michael-Satan confrontation in the War in Heaven, doing so by pounding
their way down the hallway outside the classroom like ... hell broken
loose, turning on Wagnerian opera at a place that perfectly matched the
pacing of their lines, putting one muscled chest right up against the
other, and fiercely, ragefully, loudly reciting their lines at each
other.)

I used to do a yearly marathon reading of *PL* with my Milton class each
spring, and had the tremendous pleasure of having a then-graduate student,
the talented Douglas Pfeifer, volunteer to begin the marathon by reciting
all of Book I by heart. (He offered to do other books.) His performance
was mind-altering for many of my students.

I could go on, but that's probably enough. Also, am I right in thinking
that our discussion about the pros & cons of ("rote") memorization are
uncannily kin to set-form debates in the 17th century?

Respectfully, Paula Loscocco




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Message: 2
Date: Mon, 23 Feb 2004 19:30:53 -0500
From: gilliaca at jmu.edu
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Memorization
To: John Milton Discussion List
Cc: John Milton Discussion List 
Message-ID: <42e8a257.16e4a19a.9c52e00 at mpmail1.jmu.edu>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii


I see it as work either way 
Well, the word liturgy means work - the work or the people, 
or public work.

One thing that I notice when I worship at other Protestant 
churches - usually at funerals for academic colleagues - is 
how little work to congregation does by comparison with usual 
Episcopal funerals and other worship. 

In Epsicopal worship, we stand, we sit, we sing, we pray out 
loud in unison with the celebrant, we respond [The Lord be 
with you! And also with you! etc], stand to sing, to hear the 
Gospel read, kneel to pray ... we work!

Often in other traditions the congregation sits, is prayed 
at, preached at [yes, we do that too], sits and sings, sits 
and listens to others singing - says/prays out loud very 
little.

Of course, a friend of mine who is a Friend says, only 
Episcopalians could sing, with loud organ accomapniment, a 
hymn calling for all mortal flesh to be silent!

Cynthia
Cynthia A. Gilliatt
English Department, JMU
JMU Safe Zones participant
"You have made God in your own image when God hates the same people you hate." Fr. John Weston

------------------------------

Message: 3
Date: Mon, 23 Feb 2004 19:44:27 -0500
From: gilliaca at jmu.edu
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Memorization
To: John Milton Discussion List
Cc: John Milton Discussion List 
Message-ID: <73692d10.16e5df77.b988e00 at mpmail1.jmu.edu>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii


. One never knows at the time when
>something committed to memory will be used later down the 
road. 

I once read a murder mystery, long ago, in which a kidnap 
victim, thrown into the trunk of a car, recites "The Raven" 
over and over, keeping track of how many times, and at what 
points the car seems to turn. Teh victim later escapes, and 
this allows the detective to figure out where the victim was 
taken.

At times, they seem
>almost proud of having forgotten everything learned in high 
school.

If your students come from public schools that do high stakes 
testing, like Virginia's SOLs, there's a reason for that.
Cynthia 
Cynthia A. Gilliatt
English Department, JMU
JMU Safe Zones participant
"You have made God in your own image when God hates the same people you hate." Fr. John Weston

------------------------------

Message: 4
Date: Mon, 23 Feb 2004 20:46:44 -0500
From: "verulan at mindspring.com" 
Subject: [Milton-L] Withdrawal
To: Milton-L at koko.richmond.edu
Message-ID: <157240-22004222414644948 at M2W068.mail2web.com>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=iso-8859-1

Please help me withdraw temporarily from Milton listserves

Verulan

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Message: 5
Date: Mon, 23 Feb 2004 20:53:29 -0500
From: James Rovira 
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Memorization
To: John Milton Discussion List 
Message-ID: <403AAE99.F050FD40 at drew.edu>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii

I'm using work in a slightly different sense -- not by way of physical
effort for physical participation, but by way of my own
emotional/personal participation in the service, so that it "means"
something to me (following the concerns expressed about memorization). 
In other words, meaning isn't easily transparent/available either
through liturgy or something more formless. I need to "put myself into
it." 

Funny quotation from your Friend. 

Jim

gilliaca at jmu.edu wrote:
> 
> 
> In Epsicopal worship, we stand, we sit, we sing, we pray out
> loud in unison with the celebrant, we respond [The Lord be
> with you! And also with you! etc], stand to sing, to hear the
> Gospel read, kneel to pray ... we work!
> 
> Often in other traditions the congregation sits, is prayed
> at, preached at [yes, we do that too], sits and sings, sits
> and listens to others singing - says/prays out loud very
> little.
> 
> Of course, a friend of mine who is a Friend says, only
> Episcopalians could sing, with loud organ accomapniment, a
> hymn calling for all mortal flesh to be silent!
> 
> Cynthia

------------------------------

Message: 6
Date: Mon, 23 Feb 2004 21:50:51 -0500
From: gilliaca at jmu.edu
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Memorization
To: John Milton Discussion List
Cc: John Milton Discussion List 
Message-ID: <37735b9e.16f171f4.932e000 at mpmail1.jmu.edu>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii



>
>
>I'm using work in a slightly different sense -- not by way 
of physical
>effort for physical participation, but by way of my own
>emotional/personal participation in the service, so that 
it "means"
>something to me (following the concerns expressed about 
memorization). 

Of course. And my answer was only partly playful - for me, at 
least, the physical part of Anglican worship - posture, 
gesture etc. - is both a metaphor for and a means of the kind 
of participation you are talking about. It suits my 
understanding of incarnation and sacrament.

I know that for others, the stillness of, say, Friends' 
worship paradoxically incarnates God.

And for me too, times of solitude and the absence of words 
let God speak - when I stand and see and hear and smell the 
ocean on my spring trips to the Outer Banks - tje national 
seashore has a stark granduer - but again, I am an 
incarnational being, spirtually - it's the created order that 
speaks. I'd be a disaster at a Friend's meeting!

Cynthia
Cynthia A. Gilliatt
English Department, JMU
JMU Safe Zones participant
"You have made God in your own image when God hates the same people you hate." Fr. John Weston

------------------------------

Message: 7
Date: Mon, 23 Feb 2004 21:24:35 -0800 (PST)
From: kathryn jackson 
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Memorization
To: John Milton Discussion List 
Message-ID: <20040224052435.43544.qmail at web80204.mail.yahoo.com>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"


A student's opinion:

The only thing more irritating than listening to fellow students whinging, bitching and moaning about being asked to commit something to memory (or to speak in front of the class) is instructors who decide to forgo these simple exercises because the students "won't want to." :P

It is a tremendous disservice to allow students to dictate what should be expected of them; they're in college to learn, and to learn what's good for them. 

If you don't believe you are teaching them anything worth committing to memory, please resign promptly. 

If you are a student of literature who doesn't want to memorize what you're studying, then change your major to something about which you care.

Memorizing some Milton is GOOD FOR THEM! 

It's good mental exercise and will enrich their minds and lives.

Junior college or not -- in fact, ESPECIALLY in jc ---> it will not kill anyone to sit down and concentrate for a few minutes each night on something of more worth than syndicated reruns and ludicrous "reality" programming. 

"Gee! Wow! Not fourteen WHOLE lines" (That rhyme in most cases, for John's sake). 

In the time spent complaining they could be half-way through.

Students know all the words to pop songs, having poured over the liner notes. They can recite sport statistics because sports are "important" to them. They can recount gossip verbatim, even about "stars" they will NEVER meet. 

They have the capacity. Don't let them fool you with their lack of taste and judgement.

A simple "Because I have decided it is part of your grade," should be sufficient.

And stick to it. If you want to SEE some discipline, exhibit some discipline.

You're doing them a favor. 

Even if they never thank you. Even if they never figure it out. 

You would be, in effect, rewarding them for rewarding themselves. The first one is NOT EXTRA CREDIT.

One prof at my univ. requires students to memorize and perform lines from Shakespeare. They begin with two lines and work their ways up to sixteen by the end of the semester. This bring -he-frog-to-boil technique seems both effective and not unpopular.

Another asks us to choose our own fourteen lines from PL. I only wish "the shy ones" weren't let off the hook and allowed to recite privately during office hours, because it only reinforces the notion that their "shyness" should be indulged, when in fact, they need to get over it <-- but perhaps that's me going too far, as usual.

And as for grad students -- well -- they should be doing it without being asked.

Thank you for your time.

Be Well.

kathrynanne
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Message: 8
Date: Tue, 24 Feb 2004 06:21:39 -0500
From: James Rovira 
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Memorization
To: John Milton Discussion List 
Message-ID: <403B33C3.15D1946E at drew.edu>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii

That makes sense. It's interesting that you're making reference to
Quakers, though. If you seeking an inner light, anything external is
just a distraction. Something like the difference between Blake and
Wordsworth.

Jim

gilliaca at jmu.edu wrote:

> 
> I know that for others, the stillness of, say, Friends'
> worship paradoxically incarnates God.
>

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