Benjamin Bloom was an educational psychologist who led a team that classified a hierarchy of thinking skills that is referred to as Bloom’s Taxonomy. This “ladder” of thinking skills is drilled into teachers during their basic training courses.
The taxonomy of skills really does make sense. The lowest level is knowledge; can you remember the facts? The next level is comprehension; do you understand what the facts mean? The third level up is application; can you apply what you know and understand? There are three more levels that deal with analyzing, evaluating and creating. Teachers are always encouraged to present lessons that push students into the higher levels of thinking. A lesson that merely asks students to regurgitate a set of facts has not pushed kids into higher levels of thinking.
When my children were very little, our church was just beginning the Awana program. Awana is a children’s program that demands huge amounts of Bible memorization from the kids. I can remember several parents in the church questioning the value of having kids memorize so much scripture that the kids themselves did not even understand. Anyone listening to the kids say their verses each week knew the kids were just rattling back a lot of rote memorization.
I knew there was value to having the kids memorize the verses, even if they did not always understand them; but it wasn’t until I began formally teaching that I could get my head around what was going on.
In church today, the message was from II Timothy 3. Within that passage Paul tells Timothy, “. . .from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation” (II Timothy 3:15). I was struck again by the description of Timothy being taught scripture by his mother and grandmother that he probably didn’t fully understand, but that later gave him wisdom and led him to salvation. There it is! Bloom’s taxonomy – knowledge > understanding >application.
Many skills start with basic rote memorization. The greatest mathematician might have first learned his numbers as his mother counted 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 on her toes. Before any of us learned to read, we were probably saying or singing the alphabet (remember the elameno pea?). Even a great chemist was probably once shown a simple drawing of one proton, one neutron, a circling electron, and was told to memorize it because that was a Hydrogen atom.
So the next time you hear someone bashing rote memorization, remember - everything has to start somewhere. And a lot of things start with just memorizing the facts in front of you.