[Milton-L] memorization and other Miltonic pedagogies

JBMorgaine at aol.com JBMorgaine at aol.com
Wed Feb 25 16:54:18 EST 2004


I agree, of course, that no student or teacher should be subject to "busy 
work."  The surest way I've found to avoid it is using frames like Bloom's 
Taxonomy or Vygotsky's scaffolding-- if I can't justify in words how any particular 
assignment builds on a previous one or leads to a next one, it's "busy work" 
in at least one sense.  Would any of you like to argue that Milton's 
pedagogical ideals are worth pursuing in this day and age (despite the fact that few of 
our students need instruction in, say, "the exact use of their weapon")?  In 
"Of Education," Milton stated his opinions about sequencing, that some things 
need to be learned first so that others can be mastered later.  Only after 
students learn grammar, pronunciation, all of the mathmatics, natural and social 
and practical sciences do they move on to what we study today in departments of 
English, and then memorization plays a part:

"When all these employments are well conquer'd, then will the choise 
Histories, heroic poems, and Attic tragedies of statliest and most regal argument, 
with all the famous Politicall orations offer themselves; **which if they were 
not only read; but some of them got by memory,** and solemly pornounc't with 
right accent, and grace, as might be taught, would endue them even with the 
spirit, and vigor of Demosthenes or Cicero, Euripedes, or Sophocles. And not 
lastely will be the time to read with them those organic arts which inable men to 
discourse and write perspicuously, elegantly, and according to the fitted stile 
of lofty, mean, or lowly."  (Of Education, Riverside, 984; apologies for typos 
I missed)

Following these, students can be expected to learn some Logic, then "a 
gracefull and ornate Rhetorick," "To which Poetry would be made susequent, or indeed 
rather precedent, as being less suttle and fine, but more simple, sensuous 
and passionate."  This, Milton claims, "would make them soon perceive what 
despicable creatures our common rimers and playwrites be, and shew them, what 
Religious, what glorious and magnificent use might be made of Poetry both in divine 
and humane things.  From hence and not till now will be the right season of 
forming them to be able writers and composers in every excellent matter, when 
they shall be thus fraught with an universall insight into things." (984)  
Those of us who figured this out became students and teachers of English.  Many of 
us remember the texts that led us here.  We happy few.

Without a notion of sequencing our teaching, even the greatest of subjects 
can become tedious and disconnected, producing students who "do for the most 
part grow into hatred and contempt of learning, mockt and deluded all this while 
with ragged notions and babblements, while they expected worthy and 
delightfull knowledge…" (981)

Is this adequate justification for memorization as an *important* part of 
what we do when we teach English?

Julianne Bruneau
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