This whole issue of memory vs. problem solving, learning etc is, of course,
on old debate.
One of the most interesting arenas in which I have seen it staged occurs in
medical schools. The "science" oriented folks insist that the student must
learn "facts". So in the early part of the program--Overwhelmosis occurs.
The students are exposed to legions of "facts." Of course, what exactly
counts as a "fact" and how they are made is an interesting question.
Digression: I remember once trying to tell a medical researcher that
"facts" are constructed positions.
He replied," A femur is a femur is a femur." (Sort of reminds you that a
rose is a rose is rose, eh).
So I replied. "so you treat injuries to the femur in exactly the same way
doctors did in the eighteenth and the nineteenth century. Your
understanding of the femur has not changed in any way."
He, however, did not change his position. My arguement made no sense to him.
To continue my story: Clinicians or practitioners, on the other hand, had a
very different view of facts. For them problem solving was more important
than facts. They did not dispute that facts were important, but they
resented bitterly the kind of memorizing that went on at the expense of
It seems to me we have the same kind of debate going on here. The
Classicial rhetoricians valued memory highly because memory gave
rhetoricians things they could use. But memorizing for its own sake, I
think is problematic. for one thing it leads to that sense of "fact." As
if things were unchangeable.
After wandering through this argument I have discovered my own position.
Memorizing is valuable only when we show at the same time how and why
something was made, and if we balance memory with practice--problem-solving,
stragice learning etc.
Catherine F. Schryer
Dept. of English
University of Waterloo
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
(519) 885-1211 (ext 3318)