487. Review

One of Caleb Gattegno’s favorite statements was, “Memory is weak.” Another was, “The only thing educable in human beings is awareness.” Teachers try hard to get pupils to understand things. We try to increase children’s awareness. But we also want them to memorize several things, and we have all sorts of ways to try to get them to do so. Children memorize times tables, dates in history, notable literary passages, lines in plays, and lots more.
Some, like me, remember a lot of what they’ve memorized. Teaching children, I’ve had no opportunity to forget the times tables. But I also remember entire literary passages I haven’t used for years, except to impress people with my memory. And until thirty-two years ago, my phone number was 516-MY2- 7027. I haven’t called that number since 1965, nor given the number to anyone else. But I remember it. And there are many other totally useless pieces of information that have stayed with me for a long time.
You can think of review as a way of revisiting and reevaluating what you have learned. Some review really is like that; it really does increase awareness. Concepts you encountered when you were at a certain stage look different when you’re at a different stage. Your perspective may be different because of other learning you’ve done, and what used to look old now looks totally new. That’s what I consider worthwhile and sometimes priceless review.
But there’s another kind. Review can be an awful battle. A teacher who has tried and failed to teach something faces a learner who has tried and failed to learn it, and what was once only a failure gradually becomes a disaster. Memory steps forward as a key player in the battle, and being weak, it turns out not to be
a very good player. Maybe the teacher accuses the learner of not trying. Maybe the teacher gets down on herself/himself; if I were REALLY a good teacher, he/she thinks, I would be able to win this battle.
I’ve often thought of teaching and parenting as a review course in living. It can be good review; we couldn’t have gotten the whole thing straight the first try, and it makes lots of sense to take another look. As we’re doing so, we sometimes use our memories to help young people who seem to be facing struggles we’ve already faced successfully. That doesn’t always help; they’re different people, and the struggles may also be more different than we think. Besides, memory is weak. But it can help. Teaching and parenting can also involve increasing our awareness; as we work on children’s awareness, we and/or they come up with new ways of seeing what we once thought we saw clearly, and we learn. That’s one of my favorite aspects of teaching. It can be the best kind of review.

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