Recitation is one of the academic habits that will be a focus for all classes in the elementary school this year. The reciting of stories is one of the oldest of academic habits since it pre-dates the written word. Much of what we have from ancient civilizations actually made it to us via hundreds of years of oral tradition that was memorized by the story-tellers of those civilizations. Even after alphabets were developed, the learned scholars and their students continued the tradition of recitation from memory. In fact, until recent history (the last 500 years), only the scholars and priests read and wrote, the rest exercised the muscle of memory. This is why so much of Scripture is in poetry form because it made that memory of God’s truths more readily available to the people.
Today, though we have mastered the art of teaching reading and writing to the very young, the exercise of memory and recitation is still valuable for many reasons:
- Recitation early and often develops the lifelong skill of public speaking at an age before a child knows to fear the disapproval of his/her peers. While some level of shyness may be hereditary, most young children I have met lean towards the precocious side and are enthusiastic to speak in front of their peers. Those who do struggle often are able to overcome their fear within a couple rounds of their friends jumping up to recite their poem, verse, or soliloquy.
- The practice of memorization and recitation fixes truth and beauty in the mind of the child. Think about a few things memorized in your childhood. Was it easier and did it remain with you longer than the cell number of your spouse? My phone number was 213.928.1660 and my address was 7649 Calmcrest and zip was 90240. I can’t even remember my address from six years ago, and I haven’t lived in the 90240 for over 30 years. How awesome is it when your child fixes the beauty of Wordsworth or Shakespeare or King David in his/her psyche for life? Even better, the ability to pull that beauty out when needed to emphasize a point or inspire the crowd is a lifelong gift.
- Recitation is more interesting than the taking of a multiple choice test, and it is so much more rewarding. Though it can be a difficult skill at first, the ability to stand up and recite a passage, a memorized timeline of events, or a 50 states song provides the learner with maximum emotional payoff. When we accomplish a task that is challenging, the reward of satisfaction can be overwhelmingly positive in future long-term learning. The amazing reality is that almost every student can be successful at this task whereas many struggle with multiple choice tests.
- The dinner table payoff is huge. I have read stories of families such as the Adams (John and J.Q.) and the Kennedys who were known to share their recitations around the dinner table and then talk politics and world affairs. How many times have you asked how your child did on a test only to be told, “fine”? Now think about the effect of having three different children, all who have a regular practice of memorizing poetry or quotes for school. They provide a wealth of lively conversation topics when asked to recite just a portion of their learning.
This year at Calvary, memory and recitation will be two of the key teaching tools used by your child’s teachers to fix the good, the true, and the beautiful into your child’s soul. I hope you will join in the fun by supporting your child(ren) in this age-old and wonderful practice. Your family will be blessed by the labor.
-Dr. Troy E. Wathen
Head of School