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When I was in grade school, a practical joke was popular. Some of you may remember it too. The jokester would find an unsuspecting and cooperative child to listen carefully and repeat these nonsense syllables:
As the syllables became more and more familiar, the child would be encouraged to repeat them faster and faster until he inadvertently formed an unintentional announcement about himself: “Oh, what a goose I am.”
It was a silly little joke, but it came to mind when I was pondering something Charlotte Mason described in Philosophy of Education on page 173: word memory vs. mind memory.
Simply reciting syllables, whether they mean anything or not, is word memory. Charlotte said that many times the child’s mind is elsewhere as his teacher uses tricks and repetition to get him to remember certain words.
Sadly, that’s what many children’s “education” consists of. Sometimes they recite or sing the words; sometimes they are required to write the words in blanks to prove that they remember them. But too often they have no clue what ideas are behind the words they are using.
For example, they may read, Tobacco was colonial Virginia’s most successful cash crop. By 1776 it was producing 55 million pounds per year.
At the end of the chapter they might encounter the questions:
- What was colonial Virginia’s most successful cash crop?
- How many pounds was it producing per year by 1776?
So they do a scan and search to find the related words amid the sea of text, and they find the syllables that will answer the questions correctly. But, sadly, they often have no concept of all the potential ideas contained in colonial Virginia nor what a cash crop is or how greed for that profit nearly destroyed Jamestown.
It’s just word memory. Give the teacher the correct word when asked.
Now contrast that mental experience with the kind of memory that activates when you hear this one word: Thanksgiving. Chances are a flood of ideas, images, and emotions fill your mind and heart. You can put those memories into a variety of words and sentences, describing them in various ways and focusing on one part or another.
That is what Charlotte meant by mind memory. The whole mind is activated because you are dealing with living ideas.
And that is why she used living books. You remember narratives because they touch the emotions and fire the imagination. You can see the scene in your mind’s eye, and from that scene you can pull memories with your whole mind: sights, sounds, smells, emotions. Then you can communicate those ideas with freedom in a variety of ways.
That’s mind memory.
It’s quite a difference!
Mind memory or word memory—which are you emphasizing in your home school? Charlotte believed that once we realize the force of the difference between the two, it will “bring about sweeping changes in our methods of education.”