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aruna
12-13-2007, 11:24 AM
When I was at school, learning texts and poetry by heart was part f the curriculum. Even today, I can rememeber several lines of various important Shakespearean texts: The Quality of Mercy..., Friends, Romans Countrymen ...., and several more -- we did one play per term for all my school life, and for every play we had to learn at least one speech. Also poems such as Daffodils and Tiger Tiger burning bright and The Ancient Mariner.
This was all through school from the age of about eight.

Now, I don't know about America but in England this is no longer necessary in order to fulfll the school curriculum. Neither my son nor my daughter can recite a single Shakespearen text--and both went to excellent private schools. Nor did they have to earn poems off by heart.

I think this is a downgrading of literature and a huge loss for the pupils concerned. Learning long quality texts by heart is such an excellent exercize for the brain, and beyond that, I feel it helped instill in me certain values.

I was wondering a) what American eduactionis like, do the kids have to learn things by heart? and b) how important is learning by heart? Is it enough simlply to read and understand a great play/poem?

heyjude
12-13-2007, 07:49 PM
Hi, Aruna. I think this is a great question. My completely uninformed opinion on it is that it's a good idea to have kids learn sections of poetry/lit. We're becoming less and less literate as a culture. It's a dangerous precedent to drop these requirements.

I still remember large pieces of "Lord Randall My Son" (whatever the name of that poem was) even though I can't remember my own kids' names half the time.

Wait, maybe that's an argument against it...

WendyNYC
12-13-2007, 07:51 PM
It's required in my daughter's school, starting with simple poems in kindergarten. It's a private school, though, with a classical curriculum.

Unique
12-13-2007, 08:02 PM
I did (way back when ... :idea:circa 1975-76~) "Under a spreading chestnut tree the village smithy stands, ..."

My son had songs and 'slush pile' poems they were supposed to learn but they weren't very good about teaching it.

Great galloping wads of words that he can't read (K & 1st grade). Supposed to be songs - but they didn't give any ... 'to the tune of...' So he never did memorize the songs; he hated singing anyway ... so there you have it.

I did my memorizing in Jr. High (aka middle school). That was a good time for it, I think. That's also when we started being able to try out for Drama.

YMMV

p.s. They traumatized me with haiku in 4th grade and I've hated it ever since. Don't mind reading it, won't touch it with a hot poker to write it. tsk, tsk.

andrewhollinger
12-13-2007, 08:04 PM
I'm just about to turn 23, so I've only been out of high school for 5 years, and I had to memorize literature and historical documents.

I'm in the United States, so lots of the documents are strictly American history. For example, we had to learn and recite the entire Gettysburg Address. That's a powerful speech, that I think everyone should know.

I was required to memorize portions of Thomas Paine, and Thoreau, and Emerson, Melville, Shakespeare.

For me, it started in 3rd grade (which is 8-9 years old) when I had to memorize any poem. I chose Jack Prelutsky's "You Need to Have an Iron Rear." I still remember it to this day.

You Need to Have an Iron Rear, by Jack Prelutsky

You need to have an iron rear
to sit upon a cactus
Or otherwise at least a year
of very painful practice


I was also taught a poem in Spanish by my Spanish teacher that same year, don't know the title but it went like this:

Antonino fue por vino
Caido el vaso en el camino
Pobre vaso, pobre vino
Pobre nalgas de Antonino!

nevada
12-13-2007, 08:09 PM
Yes, but how many kids learned the speeches by rote, rattling them off in stacatto tones, without ever actually realizing what the words really meant, without feeling the deeper emotion behind them? I don't know that it actually teaches anything besides memorization. Learning your times tables (which I had to do) never helped me one whit in algebra, and I wonder where being able to recite Shakespeare helps you further on. Remember, we are writers and we are bound to appreciate it a bit more than the usual teenager.

They still study shakespeare, they just don't have to memorize it. I don't see a problem with that. I'd rather a kid learned how to analyze and discuss literature than be able to recite it for the grandparents. :D

aruna
12-13-2007, 08:23 PM
I'm in the United States, so lots of the documents are strictly American history. For example, we had to learn and recite the entire Gettysburg Address. That's a powerful speech, that I think everyone should know.


Yes, I also had to learn the Gettysburg ADdress off by heart, and guess what, with a but of a nudging I can stil remember parts of it (just checked!) And I'm not even American.. this was in British/Guyanese schools, remember.


Antonino fue por vino
Caido el vaso en el camino
Pobre vaso, pobre vino
Pobre nalgas de Antonino!
Yes, I had to learn this too--reading it jogged my memory. Also several French and Spanish texts. "Maria Rosario, tu tenias entonces quinze anos..." Not to mention Christmas Carols in several languages, including Icelandic.
ANother thing we had at school wh9ich seems now dead, is reciting poems in chorus. We did that a lot, mostly the Nonsense Poems of Edward Lear.


Yes, but how many kids learned the speeches by rote, rattling them off in stacatto tones, without ever actually realizing what the words really meant, without feeling the deeper emotion behind them? I don't know that it actually teaches anything besides memorization. Learning your times tables (which I had to do) never helped me one whit in algebra, and I wonder where being able to recite Shakespeare helps you further on. Remember, we are writers and we are bound to appreciate it a bit more than the usual teenager.

I think it's good whether or not they fully appreciate what they are saying. ON an unconscious level, it teaches the brain rythym and good language and even a consciousness for the subject matter. I really feel it is a shame that it's gone out of style.

sunna
12-13-2007, 08:33 PM
I've been out of high school for - yeek - 10 years. We weren't required to memorize anything: but the education system in Maine is a little behind the times now and it was abominable then. My AP English teacher 'challenged' us to memorize a Shakespearean monologue and act it out as best we could as a possible substitute for an essay no one wanted to write. That's the only time I was required to recite anything literary.

Still remember that one, though. :)

I definitely think it should be required. I'm not sure how important it is; but I have no doubt it is important. It gives a different view of the subject matter, a sense of cadence and the language of the piece (particularly with Shakespeare, where the language can be hard to grasp when you're first encountering it). I know it helped me.

ink wench
12-13-2007, 09:27 PM
Well, I've been out of public school for longer than I care to think about, but we did have to memorize bits of Shakespeare in 7th-9th grades. I still remember a bit from 8th grade (must have had better rhythm or rhyme or something!). I can't say I got anything out of it, though. Mostly, it seemed like an exercise in short term memory retention. Everyone sat around for the 5 minutes before class started and desperately recited the words to themselves, then when put on the spot, repeated them in the same rushed way to get it all out before it was forgotten.

Then again, I'm no advocate for anything about the way English classes were structured. Nothing did more to kill my enjoyment of reading and writing than English class, even when the teacher was fabulous.

Storyteller5
12-13-2007, 09:42 PM
Friends, Romans, Countrymen...was the first thing that came to mind when I saw the title of this thread. I had to memorize that bit of Julius Caesar in school too.

I think it's bigger than just rote memorization. It comes down to enjoying reading. Learning it just because you need to be able to spew it back doesn't do much. I had to be able to match poem titles and authors; memorizing them has little value unless I'm trying to find one later. Of the two poems I know off by heart, I know one I didn't take in school (Let Me Not to the Marriage of True Minds - Shakespeare) and one I don't know if I took in school (This is Just to Say - Williams). I grew up surrounded by family who read -- novels, magazines, newspapers, etc -- which makes a difference.


We're becoming less and less literate as a culture.

If you teach children to love reading and to read a lot of different things, they will retain some of it. :)

Gray Rose
12-13-2007, 10:56 PM
I am not an American, but I learn a lot of poems by heart, and encourage my American students to do likewise. This semester they memorized and recited four poems of their choosing, which is wonderful IMHO. People have been very enthusiastic about that requirement. I tell my students that when you learn a poem by heart, you own it forever. It becomes a part of your life.

I could not imagine my life without the poems I know. They come handy in so many situations... I don't know how many times I've recited Yeats's "Long-Legged Fly" to myself when I'm feeling down, or Owen's "Futility" :)

Reading poetry is also a great way to learn a foreign language.

Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes have two wonderful anthologies called "The School Bag" and "The Rattle Bag". There are many fine poems there that are easy to memorize. I think Hughes also had a separate anthology of poems to learn by heart, but I don't own that one.

Danger Jane
12-14-2007, 03:50 AM
My school system has us memorize and recite...four poems a year?? People groan about it, but it really doesn't bother me. Also I have a photographic memory so that makes it considerably easier.

Stuff like Shakespeare, Gettysburg Address, Robert Frost, Yeats, Thoreau, Donne...

Shady Lane
12-14-2007, 04:11 AM
High school: "Friends, Romans, Countrymen," Laertes's "Best Safety Lies in Fear," monologue, The Gettysburg Address, The Declaration of Independence, the preamble to the Constitution, and "Daybreak in Alabama" by Langston Hughes.

In middle school, "The Road Not Taken."

In elementary school, I memorized, "Hope is the Thing with Feathers."

Bartholomew
12-14-2007, 07:15 AM
I homeschooled for everything after the sixth grade. My father made me memorize "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyle, "The Cremation of Sam McGee" by R. W. Service, Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, "O Captain, My Captain," Poe's "Raven," and a bunch of other things---including a short story. Some of it stuck. Some of it didn't. I'd be sorry if I'd missed on on them, though.

reenkam
12-14-2007, 07:58 AM
We had to memorize things, sometimes for tests, sometimes just for presentations and things like that. I actually don't remember what we memorized, though. I remember some things, cause I liked them, but things I didn't really care about (most history) I just memorized for when we needed it.

Linda Adams
12-14-2007, 03:19 PM
Toastmasters has, as part of their Advanced Toastmasters requirements, a manual where one of the speeches was a poem. It had to be a poem that was meant to be read aloud, though it didn't need to be memorized. One of the goals was to let the natural rhythm of the poem through and not do a "sing song." I remember when some of my fellow club members learned I was doing a poem, they had an instant negative reaction--they thought the poem was going to be something abstract and flowery. I did actually consider the audience and chose the "Midnight Ride of Paul Revere."

Since this was one of about ten different manuals and only--if memory serves--two were required for the ATM, a lot of people avoided that one (the manual was focused on reading as a speech). One of the most experienced Toastmasters in our club said even he wouldn't touch the manual, and he was a teacher!

KTC
12-14-2007, 03:25 PM
My son had to learn "In Flanders Fields" by heart in November. I was gobsmacked that he did it, too. I can't do it with my own stuff, no matter how short my poems are. Every time I do a reading I have to read every word because I have no idea what comes next...and I've read and re-read them in preparation hoping something would sink in...but nothing ever does. My son was at the supper table the night before he had to stand up in front of his class and recite the poem...he said the whole thing, with the correction inflections everywhere and everything. I was utterly blown away. He was 11 in November. So, yeah...I guess in Canada they are still doing it.

BarbaraKE
12-14-2007, 03:32 PM
I am not an American, but I learn a lot of poems by heart, and encourage my American students to do likewise. This semester they memorized and recited four poems of their choosing, which is wonderful IMHO. People have been very enthusiastic about that requirement.

You must have a very special group of students. I have never met anyone who was 'enthusiastic' about memorizing poems. :)

RubyRoo
12-14-2007, 08:02 PM
We are encouraged to learn these set quotes to stop us trawling through the book again in the exams... however we could only spend two weeks on our Shakespeare text, Macbeth, because we had no time. We barely finished it, let alone having to learn speeches on top of that. However, due to the fact we write about three essays on each text, Shakespere, LotF, An Inspector Calls, etc, I can come up with some useful quotes from memory.

Then again I do quite a lot of drama too and learning lines is never really a problem, so I could just be weird.

I am very glad they don't make us memorise poems... less than n hour to write a full essay on FOUR poems, at least one which you have no control over, stresses me out in the first place, let alone not having the anthology there! Last year I was ill for a week before the exams and ...yup... you guessed it.. the poem they did on that last day was the one which came up in the paper. I had never read it before, let alone knowing the relevant Social and historical Context the exam boards are so obsessed with now a days!

WendyNYC
12-14-2007, 08:11 PM
You must have a very special group of students. I have never met anyone who was 'enthusiastic' about memorizing poems. :)


The girls in my daughter's class pick out a poem, memorize it, and recite it to the class several times a year. (2nd grade) They seem to like it. It's a great exercise in public speaking, plus, I think their choices say a little about who they are and they enjoy sharing that.

Pat~
12-14-2007, 08:19 PM
I think it's a great skill, probably not done as much nowadays, unfortunately.

Aruna, the really sad thing is when you are a poet, and discover (like I did recently) that you can't even recite one of your own poems by heart when someone asks. :( (I do know one, a short one, but I drew a blank that particular day.)

Gray Rose
12-14-2007, 08:31 PM
You must have a very special group of students. I have never met anyone who was 'enthusiastic' about memorizing poems. :)

I teach foreign language (Russian) at the college level. Memorizing poems is such a large part of the culture that by the time the students come to me, they are all willing to do it for the experience. They do it once, and then they are hooked :) We even have Russian poetry readings (a kind of Dead Poets' Society, but with tea and cookies).

I have been teaching since 2002 and have worked with many special groups of students :)

You know what, now that I think about it I've run an English / multilingual "Dead Poets Society" in my teens and early twenties. We had many regulars, and yes, they all happily memorized poems.

Many a daunting thing becomes easy with a little bit of passion.:D

reenkam
12-14-2007, 09:24 PM
Oh, I thought of something else that's kind of similar.

In one of my college lit classes we read about 6 books, and talked about certain pages and excerpts in class. Then, part of our midterm and final consisted of a line from one of the texts, and we had to identify the speaker (or subject) of the line and what text it was from.

As an example:

Question - "Who says, 'war is a bird with a broken wing'?"
Answer - Mother in The Gangster We're All Looking For

So, while you don't memorize the texts to recite them, you have to know them enough to recognize a line like that from a group of 6 books and recall information about it. So things were semi-memorized, I guess.

It actually wasn't that bad.

Dakota Waters
12-17-2007, 12:36 PM
It's not a dead art. It's just dead.

RubyRoo
01-12-2008, 04:26 AM
Oh dear.. I just discovered that they are changing the English Alevel so it is closed text! But the coursework is on your own choice of ANY piece, play, prose, literature, poetry.. whatever you want that was written/performed post-1900. And one must be post-1990. The only trouble is it is a mere 3000 words for two close analysis questions! **cries** so little word count!!

Devil Ledbetter
01-12-2008, 04:56 AM
Twas brillig in the silthy toves...

Er, I mean, not dead.

girlyswot
01-12-2008, 08:11 AM
I still memorize things from time to time. My problem is that I have a very good short term memory but not such a good long term one. I can easily recite something with a closed book after a few minutes (depending how long it is) and will probably be able to recite it the day after (useful for exams) but a week later I'll be struggling and a month later I won't know it at all.

I do, just about, know God's Grandeur (though there are a couple of lines I'm never quite certain of) and one or two other things that I've known for years, but not many.

I did elocution lessons at school for a while, and we had to learn poems for that. I don't think we ever did in normal English lessons (UK, 1980's). Quotes from texts for exams, but that's not quite the same thing.