The Role of Rote Learning. Role Play is Artificial.

Yesterday, I listened in grim dismay to two people who were obviously engaged in the schooling of young persons talking about how a few of their “better-performing” students had written essays where the introductions had definitely been “memorized”. They seemed to have embraced that poisonous idea that rote learning has become “passe”, although they did not use those terms. Again, instead of grasping the whole picture of what it means to train up a child to become a mature, joyful and productive CITIZEN, they had been trained and schooled by the all-pervasive system to focus only on those aspects of learning currently in fashion. Yes, literacy and numeracy skills are essential if a child is to go on to assimilating and integrating more of the essential competencies needed for living a bountiful life. At the same time, we seem to have ignored the fact that young people need to have their storehouses of knowledge continuously filled, and part of that is by, ahem, rote learning. Yes, I do mean memorizing bigger and bigger chunks of data. Yes, I mean learning old and new songs, poems, mathematical formulae and so forth. Yes, I do mean practicing the same old tunes on a musical instrument again and again for hours at a stretch, even though I myself am no musical prodigy, my fingers being akin to a bunch of bananas better suited to cutting throats open the way they do it in Hindi movies. But I digress. Rote-learning also encompasses role-playing, and essentially mimicking the actions and behaviours of adults or even peers if adult models are absent. The ABCs, meaning the Attitudes assumed by Actions, Beliefs begetting Behaviours and Character characterized by Conduct, will inevitably be imprinted on the young by both responsible adults and clueless aristobrats. We have agency to choose, but we don’t seem to be choosing very well.

The Mongols knew how. Orders were disseminated via poetry or songs already familiar to all soldiers. Fresh orders were issued via a new stanza to a song already well-known. Perhaps also, one of the reasons why fresh orders were so easily assimilated was that the Mongols had regular discussions, down to the lowest-ranking soldier, about the reasons and expected benefits of an upcoming campaign or a change in operational procedures or tactics. The lowest-ranking soldier could argue about the whys and wherefores and any doubts, questions or fresh ideas or fresh perspectives the immediate superiors were not able to absorb or resolve were quickly discussed again at the next higher level and so forth. The Mongols did not have a great degree of parochialism or the “I know it all” attitude plaguing most of mankind. They, meaning of course Genghis Khan, learned and adapted with every battle. That did not leave memory work out in the cold. They had Standard Operating Procedures and battle drills as well. For instance, any new soldier coming from the Mongol homeland knew exactly where to go to report for duty because each encampment was laid out in exactly the same fashion every time, so new soldiers did not have to ask for directions. That was also because the rest of Mongol society was similarly ordered, almost just as the empire of Frederick the Great, one of the Kings of Prussia, was. One thing both Prussians and Mongols knew was that greatness grew out of doing small and simple things excellently, doing them excellenty all the time, and using those “LEGO” blocks to build things of greater complexity and therefore effectiveness. One more thing. Mongol soldiers were expected to obey orders without any hint of hesitation in battle.

Educators need to be proficient in a wider swathe of disciplines as an essential core. I DO NOT mean “Common Core” as practiced elsewhere. I mean understanding what those who teach and develop Human Capital need to have inside themselves before doing so. One of the most important is History. Real History. Counterfactual History. Applied History. Yes, you’re welcome!

It is so important to know history and even more important to understand the applications thereof. Contact me if you want to grow in that area! Subscribe for more posts in the box at top right if you like what I discuss.

Cell: (65) 97119005


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