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On kids who can memorize

I am home today working with television as my background noise.

I just watched another of those segments that I often see on Ellen and Oprah.  This one, on the Today Show

Because of the news of the President’s new pet, the show featured a segment with a little girl who had memorized all the pets of presidents past.  She showed serious pride in her accomplishments.  In fact,  she appeared smug, dismissive of those who did not share her knowledge.  We were supposed to be impressed by her interest in moving on to memorize kings and queens of European nations. 

Is anyone else driven crazy by these segments celebrating smart kids?

I know a lot of smart kids who’d rather spend their time using information, kids who’d rather create than memorize. 

Didn’t we outsource that stuff?  Didn’t we automate that stuff?

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. Jan McGee says:

    When national commentators feel they must exhibit kids like this as “smart,” it make me sad. When people in the public eye cite memorization as the ultimate achievement, it fills me with the certainty of how much educating we, as teacher-librarians, still have to do. If only these children (and their mentors) would concentrate on how to locate and use information effectively instead of “memorize-regurgitate.”
    Surely these children would benefit from some wonderful books to spark their imagination!

  2. Robin Henry says:

    While I can agree that memorization does not in and of itself make a kid smart, there is a certain mount of memorization that is necessary. Yes, we can look stuff up, but understanding enough about a topic to generate useful key words and search terms requires a little knowledge. I don’t think we should go quite so far as to “outsource” all factual knowledge from our brains. That will make for some pretty boring dinner conversation. Without some facts, we cannot have understanding and knowledge. Without knowledge, we cannot have real opinions. Training your brain to remember things is not a bad thing unless that is all you train it to do.

  3. Elderly librarian says:

    This is about the dumbest comment I have ever read from a school librarian. Some kids have a facility for remembering what they learn. We call them ”

  4. Elderly librarian says:

    I agree with R.Henry’s comments. You can’t “look stuff up” while you are taking the ACT’s, SAT’s, etc.

  5. joycevalenza says:

    I guess this one of those times you had to be there. And it was representative of many others. Robin, I agree that some fact learning is important, necessary. Memorization as a parlor act is not. It was absolutely clear to me (and I believe the interviewers too) that this child would never USE the information she so proudly memorized. The fact that she could not communicate clearly about the subject led me to believe she had no intention of synthesizing this “knowledge.” I would have been far more impressed by her telling one interesting story than her simply knowing the name of Taft’s cow.

  6. I think there is a place and time for everything. Likewise, the art of memorization is among these; certain people have a gift for it while others like me have to repeat things a million times before it becomes entrenched. My son has an uncanny ability to look at something, utter it in a couple of ways, and in a little while he is able to regurtitate everything back. His full understanding of difficult things usually comes sometime later depending on the difficulty of the subject matter. For me, as long as that understanding and appreciation comes later, I will look upon this unique ability as a blessing!

    Nuusa Faamoe

  7. That girl was a little “-itch” to the hosts and silly acting.

  8. joycevalenza says:

    So glad someone else saw that one to confirm. So smug!

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