Yesterday I began my breakdown of the points laid out in this meme (for part 1 click here). Today I’ll tackle point number 2: Intelligence is the ability to remember and repeat.
About 7 or 8 years ago, we had a guest speaker come and talk tot he department. The first thing she asked us to do was write down the three most important things we want our students to be able to do. Almost universally, we wrote down “to think independently” or something in that vain. While the session was not very helpful over all, this stands out to me because I think it still holds true across not just my department, but the educational system as a whole. As teachers, we want students who can think independently and critically (though we don’t always agree on what it means to think critically).
That being said, thinking and intelligence aren’t the same thing. But I’m interpreting the statement to suggest that those who do best in school (i.e. the most intelligent) are those who can remember and repeat. Quite frankly, that’s hogwash. One of the first things any one learns in teacher school is Bloom’s taxonomy and pushing students to higher level reasoning through analysis and synthesis. Bloom’s has given way to the cognitive rigor matrix lately, but that still stresses higher level skills. There may have been a time in education when the top students were those who could remember and repeat, but that ship has sailed. As educators we recognize the importance of asking students to do so much more, and we hold them to that. Could we move further up the cognitive rigor matrix? Absolutely. But I am sure that classes everywhere have moved beyond simply remember and repeat.
As a quick caveat before I go on, remembering and repeating does have its place. Teachers just need to remember to move beyond it. Certainly students need to be able to remember and repeat things before moving on though. I am still grateful that I was forced to memorize my multiplication tables years ago. Could I take out a calculator every time I need to multiply something? Sure, but by having memorized my multiplication tables, I am able to do far more in-depth math far more efficiently. The same can be said for foreign language teachers forcing their students to memorize vocab and verb conjugations. Memorization is a worthwhile skill and still has its place in schools.
Every time I ask students to write essays (which is often), read and analyze a text (again, often) or conduct research, I am asking them to do much more than simply remember and repeat. Yes, they must remember what a symbol is, for example, in order to analyze it, but they’re tasked with much more than just find the symbol and label it. They must prod deeper into whatever they are given. Some of the questions I ask my students include: Is Rev. Dimmesdale (from The Scarlet Letter) a good man? Who is Death of a Salesman really about-Willy or Biff? Explain the title The Great Gatsby. None of these questions are simply remember and repeat sort of questions, and they are indicative of the types of questions students are asked throughout the country. I know this because I routinely find these types of questions and assignments on the internet and through connecting with other teachers on twitter.
I imagine that many people who believe this statement though will point to standardized testing as their evidence. Standardized testing is an entirely different subject, but bear in mind most people who rail against the remember and repeat fashion of standardized testing haven’t actually participated in any sort of standardized testing and are basing their opinion on outrageous examples spread through the media. While I have plenty of issues with standardized testing, I am actually relatively impressed with how much the questions (even the multiple choice questions) ask students to do more than just remember and repeat. For example, when the question asks about the writer’s purpose, the student must do more than just remember and repeat. He has to be able to pull from the text. The latest round of standardize tests that are aligned with the Common Core go even further and ask for evidence from the text to support the answer.
Remember and repeat may have been the way of doing things back in the day, but schools have evolved beyond this today.