Cultivating a Thriving Use of Memory in the Grammar Stage

This workshop will present practical ideas for implementing grammar methodology in the classroom. Attendees will leave with tools for helping students memorize information effortlessly as they are filled with excitement, joy, and wonder. Whether this is your first year or your twenty-first, this conference will give you tips and tools for the journey.

Leslie Collins

Leslie and her husband, Dave have been working in classical and Christian education since 1995. Leslie was the founding headmistress of Rockbridge Academy in Millersville, Maryland and was privileged to briefly serve in Kailua, Hawaii as Trinity Christian School transitioned to a classical model. She is currently the Head of School at Covenant Academy in northwest Houston. Leslie and Dave have four children and one adorable granddaughter. Leslie holds a Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling from The Master’s University and a Bachelor of Science in Special Education from the University of Maryland.

The Art of Memory: How to Teach Memory Beyond Chants and Jingles

In classical education today, memory has been limited to playing a very narrow and specific role. When we think of memory, we think of the grammar or “poll parrot” stage of the Trivium. We think of the rote memory of Shurley grammar jingles, Latin chants , multiplication tables, Bible memory passages, cheesy history songs, and speech meets. However, to medieval educators and Christians a much different kind of memory was held to be not only the source of all learning and the mother of all creativity, but the foundation of all virtue as well. The practices of a well-trained and well-stocked memory were seen as essential for cultivating affections and translating the knowledge of education into the wisdom and beauty of a virtuous life. This seminar will expand our understanding of what memory is, how it plays a crucial role in education and virtue, and practical ways we as teachers can 1) train the memories of students of all ages, and 2) teach lessons with practices and methods crafted to stick in students’ memories.

Jenny Rallens

After homeschooling through highschool, Jenny Rallens earned her B.A. in 2008 from New St. Andrews College and then joined The Ambrose School faculty in Boise, Idaho to teach, direct nine (mostly Shakespeare) plays, and develop a pedagogy based on four pillars: incarnational student-teacher relationships, story, socratic discussion, and liturgy. In addition to teaching, Jenny is currently working on her master’s degree at Oxford in Literature and Arts, particularly investigating the roles literature, liturgy and material culture play in forming a community’s theological imagination.

The Recovery of Memory: Before We Forget That We Have Forgotten

It used to be that students were capable of memorizing large amounts of important literature, Scripture, speeches and important information. If humans have not changed, and are still just as capable of memory, what has changed? Our educational culture, expectations and pedagogy. In this seminar, we will explore the way memory was used, developed and employed in the classical tradition of education. Participants may be surprised to discover that memory was not merely employed to store information–but also to nourish and cultivate the soul.

Christopher Perrin

Christopher A. Perrin is the publisher with Classical Academic Press, a consultant to classical, Christian schools and the Director of the Alcuin Fellowship with the Institute for Classical Schools. Chris has taught at Messiah College and Chesapeake Theological Seminary and served as headmaster of Covenant Christian Academy in Harrisburg, PA from its founding in 1997 until 2007. He received his B.A. in history from the University of South Carolina, his M.Div. from Westminster Theological Seminary in California and his Ph.D. in Apologetics from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He was also a special student in literature at St. Johns College in Annapolis. Chris is the author of the books An Introduction to Classical Education: A Guide for Parents, The Greek Alphabet Code Cracker, Greek for Children, and co-author of the Latin for Children series published by Classical Academic Press. Chris and his wife Christine live in Camp Hill, PA with their three children.

The Fourth Canon of Rhetoric: More than Memorization

Of the five canons of rhetoric, memory is treated by some of the most well-known modern rhetoric resources in underdeveloped and oversimplified ways, if it is considered at all. The insinuation given is that the fourth canon is simply about memorization, and the teacher of rhetoric may have little reason to investigate further or practice it any differently. Without deeper consideration of memory, though, the teacher may fail to make an important distinction between writing and speaking which will result in the students’ missing out on the fullness of the skill of rhetoric. Memory must be understood, taught, and practiced as something more than rote memorization.

Near the end of the Phaedrus, Socrates gives a mythological account of the genesis of writing. He tells of two Egyptian gods, Theuth, an inventor of arts, and Thamos, the king of Egypt. In displaying his arts to the king and making an appeal that they be given to all of the people, Theuth argued that written letters would be of particular benefit, acting as a “drug for memory and wisdom.” Convinced that Theuth was not being a proper judge of his own invention, Thamos responded:

You, being the father of written letters, have on account of goodwill said the opposite of what they can do. For this will provide forgetfulness in the souls of those who have learned it, through neglect of memory, seeing that, through trust in writing, they recollect from outside with alien markings, not reminding themselves from inside, by themselves. You have therefore found a drug not for memory, but for reminding. You are supplying the opinion of wisdom to the students, not truth. For you’ll see that, having become hearers of much without teaching, they will seem to be sensible judges in much, while being for the most part senseless, and hard to be with, since they’ve become wise in their own opinion instead of wise.

Plato goes on to explain that the written speech is static, limited only to what is contained in it and, therefore, cannot defend itself or explain itself to those who would question it. The true speech, the speech on one’s soul, is different. It is “written with knowledge in the soul of him who understands, with power to defend itself, and knowing to speak and to keep silence towards those it ought.” At best, written speech is a copy of the speech on the soul, a static imitation of the dynamic reality. At worst, it is simply an assemblage of facts and ideas arranged in such a way as to give the appearance that its author has true understanding. However, the written speech itself cannot reveal the truth about its author; this can only be demonstrated through the oral speech, where one soul engages and moves the souls of others.

Obviously, writing is not a bad thing and written speech has been and will remain crucial to the classical pedagogy. The skills of rhetoric can be learned through and applied to writing in many of the same ways that they can be learned through and applied to speaking. However, there is a difference between the two, and rhetoric is rst and foremost about speaking, not writing. As Plato explains, rhetoric is the art of leading souls through words. If written speech is a static imitation of spoken speech, the speech on the soul, then which one is better suited to lead the souls of others? If rhetoric is, as Aristotle explains, the ability in any case to see the available means of persuasion, then how can written speech suffice when it is limited to the page and cannot adapt to the context of the moment or the audience? Perhaps it is clear that the art of rhetoric must give priority to spoken speech over written speech, but what has this to do with the canon of memory?

Without an understanding of the distinction between writing and speaking and, therefore, without being intentional with students about this distinction and its relationship to the canon of memory, we reduce memory to memorization. In so doing, we unknowingly teach them to prioritize the written speech over the speech on the soul. For instance, in a typical rhetoric course, the student will be required to deliver an original oration. In preparation for delivering the oration the student will first write the speech, for the purpose of developing his or her argument and also as a means of being held accountable by the teacher. Once the speech is written, checked by the teacher and (hopefully) re-written, it is ready to be delivered. All the student has to do now is commit the speech to memory and try not to get too nervous when standing up in front of the audience. What is it, though, that the student is supposed to be delivering? A paper or a speech? If the teacher has not been intentional about this point, both teacher and student will assume the former. At this point in the process, hours upon hours of class instruction and individual work have been poured into the writing of the paper. It has been the primary focus of attention. The paper contains the student’s argument and, therefore, the paper must be memorized and delivered. The student has been taught to prioritize the written, static speech over the dynamic speech that resides in the soul and moves souls.

The canon of memory must include more than simple memorization, and it ought to serve the purpose of helping the student develop and truly understand what he or she believes, i.e. the speech on his or her soul. In her comprehensive work, The Book of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture, Mary Carruthers explains that when we think of what constitutes a brilliant mind, we typically think of intellect, creativity, imagination, and intuition. In contrast, when
we think of memory, we typically consider it as a mental capacity that does not necessarily include authentic thought and learning. That is, we think of it as simple memorization and do not associate it with any of the components of brilliance. The medieval people did not share our understanding of memory.

The difference is that whereas now geniuses are said to have creative imagination which they express in intricate reasoning and original discovery, in earlier times they were said to have richly retentive memories, which they expressed in intricate reasoning and original discovery.

Memory is more than memorization. In Book X of his Confessions, St. Augustine gives a full description of the kinds of activities involved with the memory, including learning, which happens by gathering together ideas contained in the memory. He explains that there is a relation between gathering and knowing, as their Latin roots, cogo and cogito, respectively, demonstrate. The act of gathering, or collecting, cannot be separated from the act of learning and knowing. True understanding, including understanding of God and oneself, is an activity of the memory. Hugh of St. Victor turns this descriptive, philosophical notion of “gathering” into prescriptive, practical advice. “Now every exposition has some principle upon which the entire truth of the matter and the force of its thought rest, and to this principle everything else is traced back. To look for and consider this principle is to ‘gather.’” The student should collect and become familiar with the overarching principles upon which his or her argument rests. Once these are committed to memory, are truly understood by the student, the sub-points that are contained within the larger ones will flow from them, freeing the student to contour the argument to fit any particular audience and time. This is a different process from rote memorization, and the canon of memory should be understood within this fuller context. Far from being a tool for memorizing wri en speech and privileging it over spoken speech, the fourth canon reinforces the first three, utilizing writing as a means of supporting and sharpening the speech on one’s soul. It is through memory that rhetoric is transformed from formulae to faculty, becoming a true skill within the soul of the student.

There are some practical ways for the teacher of rhetoric to promote the canon of memory properly. First, teach your students the difference between written speech and oral speech. Talk about the difference often, as it is counter to what they are usually taught. Use the words “written speech” and “speech on your soul,” but avoid the phrase “presenting your paper” when describing what the student will be delivering. Second, have the student practice standing up in front of the class, delivering the heart of his or her argument (statement of facts, division and proof) with no notes and then give immediate peer and teacher feedback. This gives the student a “feel” for the argument as well as practice and helps the student decide what he or she really believes and the best way to present it. Third, do not have the student’s written speech in front of you as he or she delivers the oral speech; they are different and should be treated differently. The oral speech matters more, in that context, and you want to assess the student based solely on the ability to exhibit his or her rhetorical faculty in that particular moment and place. The written paper is simply a tool for facilitating the development of the skill. The presented speech is different and should not be exactly the same as his written paper. Finally, students who write very well, especially creatively and stylistically, will struggle with this. They will want to memorize their well-written speech word for word. Or, they will want to actually present the written speech by reading it to the audience. Do not let them “hide” behind their writing. Even though it is quite good, the skill of writing well is different from the skill of speaking well.

Understanding that memory is more than memorization, the teacher must not reduce oral speech to written speech. Rather, the teacher must instruct the student to give priority to the former. What matters most is that which he or she truly understands and can explain in different ways using different words, according to the context at hand. This is what Plato refers to as the speech on the soul, and this is what the student must be able to deliver.

Memory Work

A recent Google query for “how to memorize” turned up 2,380,000 matches. This is amazing and telling when the current view among progressive educators and our culture at large is that memorization is merely “drill-and-kill.” Without any real learning and that information can be easily accessed through available technology that memorization is unnecessary. At Trinity Academy of Raleigh, the view is different. memorization is a curricular area. Our community developed a curriculum guide that establishes purposeful expectations, prevents redundancies, and establishes clear expectations for student learning. Come see how one school developed a memory curriculum, established instructional methods, and created rubrics for assessing student progress in that area.

Stephanie Knudsen

Stephanie M. Knudsen has spent the last eight of her 20 years in education teaching rst grade at Trinity Academy of Raleigh in Raleigh, North Carolina. She has taught in Japan, North Carolina, and Virginia. Her life outside of school includes her being a farmer, lover of the great outdoors, and a reader of books.