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For all the new high school graduates and for any other Kentuckian who wants to play along, here’s a quiz.
Take a blank map of Kentucky with the county outlines. We’ve provided a copy for you here.
Now, spend 30 minutes writing the county names in the 120 blank spaces.
In the meantime, I’ll talk about the lost art of memorization.
As we emphasize the value of understanding and applying knowledge, sometimes the value of learning by rote has been de-emphasized.
Sure it’s a mechanical, ordinary, basic technique and it depends on our capacity for retaining detail. But it has a value.
We all start learning by memorization. Singing the ABC song or learning to count to 10 are first signs of education.
For most of my generation, Sunday school classes and vacation Bible school included some attempts to memorize Bible verses or the words of songs.
Very often important precepts are set to music to help us remember. That’s the basis behind many commercial jingles and sitcom theme songs such as “The Brady Bunch,” “Beverly Hillibillies” and “The Facts of Life.”
Being able to memorize is a key learning tool. But recently in a debate over the often-advertised “Your Baby Can Read” product, noted educators criticized the product as simple memorization. The children were just remembering the words, not reading, the expert said.
That concept shocked me. Because for me, reading was about learning the words. I remember learning the sounds of letters and all the emphasis on phonics. I passed those tests in grade school and always was a gifted reader, according to elementary teachers.
And to tell you the truth, I just learned the words. Today, my 6-year-old grandson can sound out a mystery word better than I can.
I don’t see that as a problem most of the time. Memorization worked for me – at least well enough that I’ve spent my adult life in the midst of words.
Today’s map quiz is another of those memorization lessons. In order to escape eighth-grade in Kentucky, once upon a time, the Kentucky history class required you to identify all counties by name on a blank map like this one.
I no longer can ace this quiz, but nearly 40 years later, 100 of 120 is still in range. On top of that, we had to match the 120 county seats to their county name.
These facts aren’t important every day but it comes into play a dozen or more times a year when someone randomly asks about some obscure Kentucky place. It’s a good thing to know.
And I owe that to a dedicated teacher who believed in memorization.
Ben Sheroan is editor of The News-Enterprise. He can be reached at (270) 505-1764 or firstname.lastname@example.org.