Memorize Something

Albert Einstein said, “Never memorize something that you can look up.”

That’s a quote that inspires debate about the need to memorize anything in today’s world, and while I agree that it’s not necessary to memorize a great deal of information so long as you have the ability to look it up either in a book or online; I do believe memorizing adds value to humanity. It’s also a great way to stimulate the brain.

As a child I entertained adults with my ability to memorize useless information. I enjoyed a game in which my Dad would hand me a dollar bill and ask me to memorize the serial number. At the age of four or five, I’d impress friends and relatives my recalling this series of numbers both forward and backward. Did this serve any useful purpose? Probably not, but I loved the attention, and I learned early on that the ability to memorize helped me to be successful in school. It also made me feel special as adults commented that I was “so smart”.

I don’t want you to think I believe that school should be all about memorization, but spelling and math facts certainly depend on a student’s memorization. If we followed Einstein’s advice literally, we would not be able to write or compute without using a dictionary or calculator. Can you imagine trying to have a conversation and constantly stopping to look things up on your phone? I don’t think that’s what he meant. In fact, I’m sure Einstein committed many mathematical and scientific principals to memory. The things he needed in his everyday life.

I don’t know if it’s Einstein’s advice, laziness, or over dependence on electronic devices, but it seems to me as if no one is memorizing anything today. I’d like to reverse that trend.

I’m surprised at how many of my students do not know their telephone number or address. These are middle school students, not kindergarteners, but their parents aren’t much better. I frequently hear, what just a minute, let me look up that number for you…that number is their child’s cell phone number.  How do you not know your child’s phone number?

Over the years, I’ve required my students to memorize not only spelling words and math facts but states and capitals, poetry, and passages from historical documents. Do I expect they all know the capital of North Dakota or the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution? No, but I hope they recognize Bismark and Raleigh and Cheyenne as capital cities and “When in the course of human events” and “We the people of the United States” as the words of documents upon which our nation was founded.

Another benefit of memorization: memory training helps prevent cognitive decline. According to the Radiological Society of North America memorization is an effective way to combat memory loss. Sure, we’ll be walking the the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, “the Memory Walk”, but maybe it would be a good idea to memorize something to stimulate our brains as well.

My recommendation on things everyone should memorize:

  • Personal information including address, phone number, parents’ full names and birthdates, and place of birth (city, county, and hospital).
  • Phone numbers of the most important people in your life. Probably between five and ten numbers.
  • Birthday of the people with whom you live. You can’t afford to wait until the last minute for a reminder resulting in a missed birthday or anniversary.
  • Financial information such as your bank account number and social security number. These aren’t numbers you want to store in an electronic device. Just commit them to memory.

So my challenge to you…memorize something. A poem, a Bible verse or prayer, a joke or story, or the phone numbers of your family and friends and when you see me in two weeks don’t forget to ask me what I’ve memorized.