“If your questions are Google-able, then you are not asking the right questions.”
This past weekend at the Educon 2.2 conference, I heard this sentiment repeated far and wide. At first blush, I agree with it. In a classroom, inquiry is important, and fostering the ability to ask the right questions, in both myself as a teacher and for my students, is imperative. Being able to ask the right questions is no easy task, and I encourage and support that endeavor.
However, I really want to make the case for Google-able questions. I want to make the case for rote memorization.
The skill of memorizing is not inherently bad, even in the age of information abundance. For instance, I am much better at math if I have my multiplication tables and key formulas committed to memory. When I used to work the cash register at various jobs I’ve held, even memorizing common combinations of change came in handy (I’ve found that no matter the place, because of sales tax and prices and human behavior, one finds that certain combinations of change arise more often than others.). When our registers went down, I always could do the sales tax in my head.
Beyond math, I believe that in an age where our communication moves increasingly online, we will come to value the oral storyteller more and more. As it becomes rarer, we will value the skill. The Moth and This American Life, both featuring well-honed storytelling skills, rely in live performance on the ability to memorize key facts. Without the memorization, we cannot ad lib. Every jazz musician knows this.
I remember once being an audience of one for a boy’s moonlight recitation of a certain e.e. cummings poem. It was beyond a powerful moment. I was completely willing to go out for a second date because of it. If that isn’t a real world application, I don’t know what is.
For me, I love memorizing things. Scrabble words that begin with Z. An Educon encienda presentation. A set of statistics. Quotes from The Simpsons. A poem. A phone number. While there is a whole cognitive science argument to be made, that we should memorize information in order to keep our brains sharp (our brain is like a muscle!), I maintain that there is something remarkable about a person who delivers a well-memorized piece of information.