So, a lot of the edublogerrati have heard of and referenced Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
. It's one of those memes--the desired state of total immersion in a complex task that enables you to experience a state of semi-ecstasy--that's easy to grasp and difficult to implement. But, I had never actually read the book and so when I finally picked it up from my library queue I was surprised to find what was inside. I was especially surprised by the idea of how the entire reason for Flow was to learn how to control your inner consciousness and how that would result in the closest thing to happiness we mere humans could ever know.
There is of course the general idea of flow and how it relates to different aspects of life (leisure, thinking, work, sex), but there is an interesting section on memorizing that sneaks up on you.
...for a person who has nothing to remember, life can be severely impoverished. This possibility was completely overlooked by educational reformers early in this century, who, armed with research results, proved that "rote learning" was not an efficient way to store and acquire information...But if control of consciousness is judged to be at least as important as the ability to get things done, then learning complex patterns of information by heart is by no means a waste of effort. A mind with some stable content to it is much richer than one without. It is a mistake to assume that creativity and rote learning are incompatible. Some of the most original scientists, for instance have been known to have memorized music, poetry, or historical information extensively.
This is hard to take for teachers who've been influenced by the George Siemens of the world
who envision that the Internet is a big hive mind
that can take care of the mere storage of information so we Morlocks
will be able to do whatever it is we do without having to remember when exactly the Smoot-Hawley tariff
was enacted. Why remember the Internet will do it for me?
Still, Csikszentmihalyi made me rethink all of that. There is something Zen about the practice of flashcards
and looking askew at the ceiling as you try to pack information in your head. For me, the practice of memorizing my lines for Romeo and Juliet (I was Tybalt, dead by Act III) stays with me and when I'm bored I'll sometimes picture myself delivering monologues in my mental space to mental audiences. In Islam, a certain subset of believers (the hafiz
) memorize the entire Koran
. There is something beautiful in the act of truly owning information, truly making the ideas and details of wisdom and history ours without having to plug into Wikipedia to extract them. It makes the whole dispiriting act of memorizing vocab words take on a more enlightened glow. Especially if we imagine the possibilities that memorizing poetry might have on our students (see here
, and here
So, how can we reconcile our desire to avoid the drudgery of memorizing facts uselessly with the fact that the process of memorizing can be beneficial to our mental states.