Friday, June 13, 2008

Rote Learning -- a thought

Jonathan Zimmerman, who is currently working in Ghana, writes in History News Network on his experience with rote learning. When several decades ago he was a Peace Corps Volunteer he accepted that PCVs should not try to fight the rote learning culture in the schools in which he taught, seeing that as a form of cultural imperialism. Now he finds that Ghanaians feel that rote learning is wrong and are looking for ways to modernize schooling, and feels he was wrong all those years ago.

I think that rote learning is embedded in the cultures of developing nations and not in that of the United States. My wife and I were talking today, wondering if that is not a result of different availability of information aids. When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer, even before Zimmerman, I came from a society that had maps and phone books as well as books and a lot of advertisements. I expected to be able to look up information that I needed, and to have my recollection reinforced frequently about sources of goods and services. I didn't expect to have to remember much. I did not have nearly as well developed a memory capacity as my father who had grown up in a much poorer and less "connected" Ireland.

Moving to live in a society that did not have the same information resources I was impressed by the well developed memories of my peers, but also frequently bored by the conversations that exchanged information that I expected to be easily available on demand. Of course, in the new society that information was not easily available. There were no local maps, no phone directories, and only the foreigners had lots of books.

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