May 21, 2019
For most people, including myself, memorization is brutally hard. I don't have a photographic memory, although some people do, mine is just an ordinary memory. So I've never really impressed people much with my memory. But it's like everything else in your personal and professional life, a little bit is important. And it's all about priorities.
Like most people, I'm a conceptual learner, not a memorizer. I do terrible with rote stuff. But there are many places in life where rote learning, and memorization, is critical. School is the place that jumps to my mind. I never had much interest in schoolwork, but I knew that if I could do some short-term memorization I could take a test, and then get back to what I wanted to do. I taught myself this trick (and it's only a trick) early in life. As a Fine Arts Major in college, I always liked test days in my other classes, because it meant that I could leave early, and go over to the art building. I passed an accounting class with flying colors, but I really am hazy about what a "debit" and a "credit" is. If you care about that stuff, you know, but I didn't, so I memorized, and then forgot.
And since memorization is a trick, I found it a fascinating thing to do to impress people - at least on the short term. I learned at an early age that the best thing to remember is names, so I made that a priority. I treated my brain like a very weak computer, making sure not to overload the data. Who won the World Series in 1963, and what day of the week is was on the previous 21st of last month, didn't enter into my memory banks. I've never found anything to be more important personally and professionally than people, and I start with memorizing their name.
Of course, there are many other things you have to memorize, and I'm not talking about multiplication tables. This language that you're reading, English, is one of the most tangled things that I've ever had to memorize. There really is no logical pattern to it, you just have to memorize. That gives me a lot of practice my memorization with. First people's names, then the English language.
Memorization is a wonderful trick, and it's simply mental gymnastics. You don't have to memorize things that matter to you, you memorize things that matter to other people.
May 9, 2019
One of the things that I discovered about myself when I started teaching is that I'm a conceptual learner, not a memorizer. And since my career had been in graphic design, I found that most of the students who did well in my classes were conceptual learners, too. Of course I hadn't given that any thought, it's just how I thought. If you're curious as to whether you're a conceptual learner, or a memorizer, I can tell you. It's a point of view.
Most school classes are created by and for memorizers. I did enough memorization to graduate, but it was never a strength for me. The vast majority of my classes required me to memorize a certain amount of information, recite it back within a short timeframe, and then forget it. Not surprisingly, the things that I memorized many decades ago, then recited back many decades ago for a grade, didn't stay with me. Memorization is a short-term thing, except for people who have photographic memories (and that ain't me!).
I have learned many things, and I do it by understanding the concept. The things that have stayed with me in my lifetime are things that make sense to me in a very deep way. They're the things that I care about, and that I cherish knowing.
I've known people who've tried to memorize. They really limit themselves, because human brains aren't very good at memorization. Computers are wonderful at it, but computers really don't understand things conceptually.
A concept is an idea. It's an abstraction. And that has nothing to do with memorization. I call it "wrapping your head around" something, like how a particular game is played, or what beautiful music sounds like. It's about things like how the color blue combines with red, and the trillions of combinations that make up all of the colors that we see. I've known people who try to memorize the names of colors, and I just shake my head.
Yes, I understand that they made you memorize things in school. It's always been that way, and it always will be. Schools need structure, and grades, and stuff like that. But learning is different, and even if you have a terrible memory, you can be a wonderful learner.
Think of the world as if it were an apple, floating in space.