Repetition, Memorization, Recitation

a woman in a tan dress and red hair piece looking over her daughter's shoulder teaching her the skills of repetition, memorization exercises, and recitation practicesMemorization is the cornerstone of a traditional education. At Memoria Press, we use repetition, memorization, and formal recitations to create a comprehensive, connected, and consistent experience for students from junior kindergarten through twelfth grade. Naturally, if memorization is the goal, repetition and recitation are the complements—repetition as the preparation and recitation as the proof and the prize.

Memorization is foundational to grammar school education. In fact, it is why the grammar school is called the grammar school in classical education—it is the time when the student focuses on memorizing the Latin grammar. But memorization is a method that should not be limited to learning Latin, nor should it be reserved for the young. It is infinitely invaluable and supports education at every age.

We use memorization to build a foundational base of knowledge and to fill the hearts and heads of our students so they may write, speak, and think with clarity, truth, and beauty. The facts, Scripture, poetry, songs, and literary passages memorized by students are formative and life giving. They become the truths to which they will cling, the stories to which they will allude, the resources to which they will refer, and the facts with which they will persuade throughout the whole of life. The well-educated person, who has a head and heart full of meaningful knowledge, is a better writer, speaker, thinker, and servant because he or she has an overflowing font of resources within, ready for
access at any time.

Repetition is what makes memorization possible. Adults find repetition dull, but the child does not. Try to recall a child learning something new, perhaps a new song on the piano or a new skill like riding a bike. Children delight in doing a new thing over and over and over again. But the satisfaction is not complete until they show us. “Watch this!” they shout. Repetition and recitation (presentation) are the methods the child naturally uses to learn. These are the tools he naturally employs to practice and then to seek correction and praise. Chesterton, as always, says it more beautifully, pointing to the Source of this natural disposition:

… grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon.

At Memoria Press we capitalize on this nature of the child by utilizing repetition, memorization, and recitation in every grade and in many subjects. We select the best content we can and we routinely give students the opportunity to repeat, memorize, and recite.

In general, students enjoy the challenge. And they always love the successes. But I’ll add this: Even if a hint of tedium creeps in at some point, is there not an important lesson to be had there too? Another word for repetition could be discipline: the athlete who practices day after day, year after year; the adult who sets the early alarm and drives to the same job day after day, year after year; the parent who makes the meals, washes the dishes, and does the laundry day after day, year after year. Repetition is a necessary part of life that should be prepared for and embraced. Through repetition and discipline, we learn to do well what is expected of us. And, importantly, we learn to do our work well, not just once, but consistently.

Repetition helps us with individual tasks, but it also adds comfort and routine more broadly. Repetition offers order, and freedom itself is born of order. In pursuit of ultimate freedom, Memoria Press offers a lot of consistency. Our goals are similar from year to year, so our methods and materials are also similar. Students are trained in accuracy, attention to detail, and mastery. There are routine assessments for which students are well-prepared. There is regular review. Subjects are given thorough treatment, not cursory attention. The student knows what his day will look like, what his texts will look like, what his year will look like, what his education will look like.

Of this repetition, I like to refer to an expression by C. S. Lewis, who said, “A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice.” When students are comfortable with their routine and there is a lot of familiarity, the effort can go into what is new—the new content, the new lesson. There is not the added challenge of learning a new system, a new way of doing things. The student is grounded and comfortable and he knows exactly where he is headed. This frees him to release some anxieties and concerns about practicalities and lift his thoughts in contemplation of bigger ideas. Structure, repetition, and order, are, ironically, the requisites of freedom.

But repetition and memorization alone aren’t quite enough. Recitation consummates the learning experience for students. Memorization and recitation naturally go hand in hand. Recitation is the fruit and the proof of memorization. It is both the test and the triumph. Previously the sole method of testing in schools, recitation requires mastery of a subject like no other testing mechanism can. It reveals gaps or flaws immediately. Students know instantly and independently when there is still work to do. But recitation also reveals victory clearly. Recitation is unique in that it fosters the kind of confidence and pride we want our children to have—the kind earned by accomplishing a challenging feat, the kind that enables them to humbly believe they can learn anything. On a practical level, recitation encourages clear, articulate, meaningful communication. It promotes interacting with others with poise, accuracy, and consideration. But more importantly, recitation teaches the importance of sharing our lights with others and using the knowledge that we hold in our hearts to delight and serve.

Repetition, memorization, and recitation are indispensable to classical, traditional education. In fact, memorization was so integral to Cheryl Lowe’s philosophy on education that it essentially identified her life’s work. Memoria Press derives its name from the Latin word for “memory.” Repetition, memorization, and recitation are ingrained in the culture of Memoria Press.

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