A Cloister of Remembered Sounds: A Defense of Memorization as a Pedagogical Practice

McNamara, Wyatt, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Edmundson, Mark, AS-English-Eng Lit Ops, University of Virginia

Memorization is on the decline. It is now a fringe practice in the English-speaking world. Today, we focus on the utility value of texts and champion so-called "practical skills." But what has been lost in our abandonment of rote learning in the humanities? I suggest that we have lost several things: the social cohesion afforded by a common literary tradition, a vision of education as a fundamentally normative practice, and a certain refinement of aesthetic sensibilities. The continuous thread winding throughout this piece is my contention, borrowed from Richard Rorty and Harold Bloom, that possessing the world by memory enables us to live fuller and richer lives. I insist that poetry can give us that "fire of life" which can never perish. As Lord Byron put it, “My mind may lose its force, my blood its fire, / And my frame perish even in conquering pain; / But there is that within me which shall tire / Torture and Time, and breathe when I expire.” In my analysis, I plot the rise and fall of rote learning, explain it’s philosophical underpinnings, and speculate on the reasons for its decline while offering literary analysis and social commentary where relevant.

MA (Master of Arts)
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