I have read some about classical education and was concerned about the emphasis on rote memorization. Where is the creativity?

Written By
jrtashjian May 9, 2017

This is a common question whose answer has a few parts. Our first answer is that we don’t feel that it is accurate to say that classical education puts a large emphasis on memorization.   Any educational method worth the effort will lean on memorization as a learning tool.   The distinction in a classical context is that we unashamedly embrace this valuable tool and use it as well as we can rather than ignore it or minimize it.   We recently heard a parent from another school complain that their child’s teacher expected her to memorize her multiplication tables, yet no class time was dedicated to the task and no memorization skills were taught. Ultimately this parent had to undertake this worthy goal of teaching basic mathematical literacy on her own at home. Secondly, we would enthusiastically state the classical perspective that memorization is nothing to be ashamed of.   Which of us would dismiss a pastor’s sermon or seminary preparation if we had caught a glimpse of him memorizing scripture?   Who among us would dismiss a doctor because he had memorized the massive amounts of anatomy required of medical students?   Memorization is a powerful learning tool that should be used wisely and effectively, not dismissed and forgotten.   Finally, we would point to the most creative minds of the last few centuries, the overwhelming majority of which were educated classically and who where able to produce the art, music, architecture, science and political leadership which we hold in such high esteem.  Certainly being literate and having stored away a vast array of basic knowledge did not hinder the creativity of the likes of Bach, Edison, Einstein, Churchill, and DaVinci.    To quote one of our students: “You can only be creative in how you arrange your blocks, if you have blocks in the first place.”