Rote Memory - you learn by repeating something over and over again. Examples include reviewing flash cards, listening to something several times on a tape, writing something over and over, going over the words of a speech again and again.
Rote memory has been oft maligned by students and educators alike.
To a student Rote Memory can seem boring and time consuming. I prefer educational activities that require me to apply what I already know. That begs the question how do I know what I already know?
To educators it seems too much like regurgitation. They want children to understand why they solve a problem a certain way not just be able to shout out the answer. How many times have we heard, "Please show your work?"
Ralph A. Raimi of the University of Rochester's Mathematics Department wrote a wonderful article about the subject.
On Rote Memory
The question has come up, what should teachers ask students to memorize, and the answers seem to differ. But I suspect the answers are not really as different as all that, because the word "memorize" tends to take on different meanings in different people's minds. Should one memorize the Pythagorean Theorem, for example? One person will say one should, rather, understand it, and be able to use it, and maybe even be able to prove it. Well, of course, but how does this say it shouldn't be memorized? Well, says that person, we don't want kids standing up in four straight rows and reciting thesquareofthehypotenuse..., and calling that the lesson for the day. The other guy says, no, that's not what he meant when he said kids should memorize the theorem. He did mean it should be known. He meant that when someone shows the kid a diagram in which there is some right triangle two of whose side lengths are somehow known, perhaps from other considerations, that kid should be able to calculate, on demand, the length of the other side. And he calls this "memorizing".
Indeed I do, nor can I see how “understanding” and being able to use the theorem can be divorced from the use of our memory, even for professional mathematicians who have known and used the theorem all their lives. But it is conceivable that someone could memorize the statement of the theorem, and to recite it without thinking about what it is saying, or how to use the theorem. So the phrase "rote memory" has been invented to describe such fruitless memorization, something we all do not want in the use of memory.
But this, too, is tricky. I have "rote-memorized" the fact that 7X8=56, in the sense that I don't draw a 7 by 8 rectangle and count squares every time I need that particular product. I have it by rote as surely as if I were taught a Chinese song (I don't know any Chinese language at all). In the case of 7X8 I do know how to arrive at the result, so that the "56" is not the only thing I know about it, while in the Chinese song I would be able to exhibit nothing analogous, but this doesn't mean that my memorization of 56 as the answer has any fault. Indeed, it is valuable to know such things "by heart" --- meaning, without further use of the head --- and we all know that. So why all the dispute about rote memory?
The trouble mainly is that we don't have terminology to distinguish the kind of "memorization" that can be replaced by a crib sheet on an exam from the "memorization" that cannot. And so we argue about a word, rather than about the two distinct ideas that generally are conveyed by that same word in two distinct contexts. And yet the distinction is not really something to worry about.
Generally speaking, I have never been sorry to have memorized anything, from snatches of poetry to the wording of theorems. To put the matter even more strongly, I have never learned anything, anything at all, that I was later sorry to have learned. Why should others be so fearful of knowledge? They make it a virtue to avoid teaching facts, for fear they will be memorized without understanding. Yes, that does happen, but shall the best forever be the enemy of the good?
Ralph A. Raimi
Revised 12 April 2005
I would like to emphasize that last paragraph:
"Generally speaking, I have never been sorry to have memorized anything, from snatches of poetry to the wording of theorems. To put the matter even more strongly, I have never learned anything, anything at all, that I was later sorry to have learned. Why should others be so fearful of knowledge? They make it a virtue to avoid teaching facts, for fear they will be memorized without understanding. Yes, that does happen, but shall the best forever be the enemy of the good?"
I especially like the last question.
That brings me to the purpose of this conversation:
What should we apply the rote memory technique of learning to? What is the most important application of rote memory for a Christian?
I would like to say that my reason for producing this post was a Bible verse I read such as the following, but it was not.
Deuteronomy 6:6-9 (English Standard Version)
6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.
7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.
9. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Deuteronomy 11:18-21 (English Standard Version)
18 "You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.
19 You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
20 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates,
21 that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.
Joshua 1:7-8 (English Standard Version)
7 Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.
8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.
Colossians 3:16 (English Standard Version)
16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Those are a few verses from Scripture admonishing us to dedicate to memory the Bible.
The reason why I decided to write about learning by rote memorization the Scripture was an event one of my professors related to my class. He had occasion to have a full MRI done. He was nervous about the procedure due to the fact he was claustrophobic. He needed a method to overcome this problem. His problem is a problem many individuals face to varying degrees each and every day. It may be as simple as facing a small problem or as difficult as being imprisoned. What, or whom, do we lean on? I have heard of several techniques. "Keep your eyes on the prize" or focus on a "happy thought" seem to be oft suggested. I wonder how well those would work when facing certain death. My professor's solution, which is the Biblical solution, was to recite to himself Scripture verses and hymns. To recall the promises of God. To find his support in the Triune God alone.
The basic fact is that most of us, including myself, have not dedicated to memory vast swathes of the Bible. Since Sunday School, as a youth, I have only attempted to memorize scripture a few times. We would not have the ability to forebear hardship very long on the Word of God. We like soldiers are training for things to come. Soldiers, among other individuals, practice techniques over and over. Then when the situation occurs they have the appropriate response because they have had it drilled into them. They do not have to think about what they should do they just do it. As Christians we should try to always have the appropriate response. That requires Bible Study and Bible verse memorization. That requires Rote Memory.
May I use the rote memorization technique to the Glory of God.