Why memory techniques are not taught in schools; memory techniques are meant for rebels?

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#1 23 April, 2015 - 13:01
Joined: 5 years 1 month ago

Why memory techniques are not taught in schools; memory techniques are meant for rebels?

The following is just a theory of mine attempting to explain why memory techniques aren't being taught in the schools of our age. Please, feel free to comment, agree or disagree.

I would speculate that the main reasons why memory techniques are not taught in the schools of our age is that all which you really need to learn memory techniques is found inside your head and the inside of your head is both invisible to others and beyond the government's control.

My theory is that in order for something to be taught in our schools, the subject has to be either visible or within the control of the governing authorities that provide the education.

This explains why you can learn about cars and computers and sports, etc. but not memory.

Although we claim that memory sports do exist, they are not really a visible sport. When memory athletes write down their numbers, they are just writers and writing isn't a sport. Even putting cards in some order isn't really doing anything that can obviously be recognized as a sport. From a visual perspective, this looks more like a game but it isn't even that.

Also, it seems as if schools along with the political authorities that provide free education will only teach students things that will make followers out of them:

A teacher is someone that says, " I am the teacher and you students must do as I do to become as good as I am." A teacher cannot therefore teach memory techniques because he or she would do it this way. He or she would say for instance,

"My dad is my king of hearts and so all of you students must use my dad for your king of hearts. "

But as memory technique enthusiasts, we know that this approach will not work. So because this won't work, it isn't being taught. The right approach cannot be taught as it would set the students on a way to independence, and independent thinking, something which is permitted only in very limited classes such as philosophy classes and even there, the ideas are presented but not acted upon; it's like anarchy, you can talk about it in class but you can't live this philosophy within the frames of a patriarchal school. It just won't work.

For this reason, I'm starting to think that the learning of memory techniques may be best suited for rebels.

Attempting to introduce the teaching of memory techniques in schools may therefore be headed for certain failure; our civilizations' current values seem to preclude this. What is needed are much more fundamental changes to the values of the society in which we live before the teaching of memory techniques will become the obvious thing to do.

I was very impressed not too long ago when I thought I saw in an internet video Mr. 8 times world memory champion Dominic O'Brien say that he would believed that this kind of teaching might lead to world peace. If this is so, then certainly, someone high up will find a way to prohibit this teaching... soldiers need work, don't they?

8 January, 2017 - 10:06
Joined: 1 month 2 weeks ago

Hmm! Reading this, I strongly agree. In addition, you've touched on ideas I find interesting. Yes, as you imply, one probable reason for this problem is that many who are in charge, have a tendency to see such methods new to them as an attack on their present abilities and knowledge, and therefore, their competency in their positions.

I will read the replies of the other members, and give all this, as well as what I have read here, more thought, them probably provide further feedback.

By the way, I've written & published 3 books on mnemonics, of which in one of them, I do mention such matters. There's info about the books in my profile.

8 January, 2017 - 13:33
Joined: 4 years 4 months ago

I am also in strong agreement. To get interested in learning techniques (Method of loci and more), you have to feel like you are the one in charge of your education, you have to be a free thinker to reach a certain level autonomy. Rebellion is just one step or two further from free thinking. Teachers become a ressource to learn and lose their role as master of our thinking.

I have multiple example of conflicts with my teachers because my attitude caused by this paradigm shift (being in charge) was not the behavior expected by my teachers. I behave in class and worked at home to achieve a greater goal than getting the likes of my teachers. And the least I can say is that I did not get them.

Teachers think as teachers, not as learners. They are focused on how to improve their transmission, and this is a subject difficult enough to tackle. This is an enormous bias in research too. Scientists are grown up, and often grown-up-teachers. There is a tremendous amount of research on improving learning, and you know what ? At least 99% of time this is done under the teacher perspective...even research on the freaking student learning techniques appears to be biased towards classroom activities... If you think I am disappointed, you are damned right.

I don't blame teachers. Being in their shoes from time to time makes you really understand why this is not their priority. So many factors have to be taken into account that trying to transmit learning techniques is risky. And...damned...a class is much more easy to handle when they do what you ask, not when they do whatever they feel like it. While rejecting some aspects, I kept some parts of this authoritarian schemata. This is how I had school before them and I have no clue on how to do otherwise and avoid pedagogical distasters.

Being in charge is risky, some scientists even write that considering that the student can self-direct his learning is a myth...and not a single line on the hopefull perspective to change this myth in an approachable reality...just a myth then, not a desirable future...

I have also heard about teachers that tried and failed. My modest experience on this project is also quite mixed. This is understandable. Students are not ready to listen this kind of things from a teacher, so they don't grasp it as if it was driven by their own will. As I said, they must feel like they are the one in charge to get enough motivation to dig in memory techniques and this is not in our educational culture.

For these reasons, I also reached the point to think that (1) learning techniques are indeed more for rebels (2) waiting transmission of learning techniques by teachers is not far from being hopeless and/or ineffective.

Sorry for my rambling, this is a subject that passionates me. Simon Luisi, I let you the last word with this very nice paragraph you wrote.

"Attempting to introduce the teaching of memory techniques in schools may therefore be headed for certain failure; our civilizations' current values seem to preclude this. What is needed are much more fundamental changes to the values of the society in which we live before the teaching of memory techniques will become the obvious thing to do."

8 January, 2017 - 14:43
Joined: 1 year 9 months ago

So, each country might have a different reason, but just my two cents here.

During a psychology conference a few months back I asked it to an education psychologist who happened to be working on a research to the amount of information children have to learn at primary schools these days (which seems to have nearly dubbled in 10 years).

So I asked him why we teach children what we want them to know, but never how they can learn to remember.

His hypothesis (not a theory, just like your idea isn't a theory but a hypothesis) was one of three parts to it.

First is the history of education. He explained that the image of the modern kind of education at primary schools is relatively young, and founded with an aim on literacy and numeric understanding, and over time also gained more on the topic of learning about the world. That is the first thing, education is focussed on 'what', not 'how'.

Second is the impact of a good memory on society. Which is low, no matter what people here might tell you. Even right now, I am typing this on my brain prothesis, my smartphone. And we all have something like that, a smartphone, a computer, anything that helps you remember. Numerical understanding has proven incredibly useful for society in the form of economics, literacy has proven incredibly useful in the form of sharing information, memory... not so much, as we had other things that could do the same thing but better with less effort, like using literacy to remember. We dont learn to remember because we have things that can do it better and easier.

And the third, people dont want it. Go to a school campus and ask around if people want a system with a 50% rememberance at each repetition (75% at second, 87.5% at third, etc) that works for literally every single thing you want to use it for, or many systems with a 80-90% rememberance, but which do have to be custom made by you to fit your needs.

He said that instead of teaching students to remember, we have to teach teachers to educate in such a way that their explanation triggers mnemonics in the brains of the students.

History is being brought to us as a timeline, not as the story it really is. Languages are brought to us as words and grammer, not as a means of communication. Scientific classes focus on knowledge instead of explanation. Students are shown the answers, without ever being asked the question. That has to change first.

Mnemonists are by far the minority in society. We get pleasure and enjoyment out of making systems, but most people just want to make notes, which saves both time and effort in the short run. People want maximum results with minimum effort, and that is not what mnemonics is.

15 January, 2017 - 09:20
Joined: 5 years 1 month ago

Well, after nearly 2 years without any reply to this post, these 3 responses poping up in a single day is a pleasant surprise. I hope this new post will not kill the flow for another 2 years.

Strangely, while waiting for a response to this post, I've been contacted by two brilliant school teachers. Both have made the effort to introduce the memory techniques to their classes. As a result, a whole class of 8 or 9 year old participated in the Provincial Memory Championship last year with many of them achieving impressive scores. More of these students participated in the Provincial Memory Championships than there were participants at the National Championship.

The other teacher ended up winning the prestigious National title of Canadian Memory Champion and managed to grab the media's attention like no one else before in my country with this subject, (well, at least in one province.)

So, the teachers here stand out as very good and progressive. At least, some of them are.

Nevertheless, the general attitude that I outline of worldly spectator to an educational show that students are expected to agree to have is still an issue in my opinion. I feel that students are made to enter schools as if they were inferior, knowledge deficient people and that isn't right.

From a memory athele's perspective, the knowledge with which I begin to learn is vital and it is knowledge this knowledge which I seek to enhance and organize and suit for my purpose. The end result of this isn't satisfaction with a diploma because I now have a licence to work in a financially rewarding field, the end result is satisfaction from a feeling of general empowerment or increased self confidence and mental energy.

In other words, memory education strengthens the student him/her self as opposed to strengthening the dependance of a student upon his newly acquired licence to make good cash.

Given that the education system wants to raise cash producers to justify the tax money that goes into education, we may find that classes actually drain students of their energy (and often of their confidence given the high rate of failure) more than it succeed at strengthening them.

In my opinion, school seem to have in mind to produce something valuable out of students due to their self interest and this valuable end result hasn't got for focus to make students stronger, but to make them economically more impressive.

When students feel confident and empowered, things often change, and I feel that a lot of people in the education system and in the political system will want to resist that. I think it's a dominance issue. So, in my opinion, even if you do have progressive teachers around, don't expect too much change too soon overall.

When I hear that a high education doesn't help to prevent the onset of Alzheimer's I wonder, "Who would have made the hypothesis that a higher education might have this effect ?"

15 January, 2017 - 12:00
Joined: 1 year 9 months ago


I feel that students are made to enter schools as if they were inferior, knowledge deficient people and that isn't right.

Discussing education internationally is always tough, but I do wanted to say something about this :p
Around here, different levels of schooling all act differently. Primary schools (age 4-5 to 12) used to be good around here, teachers actually teaching and letting kids play and have fun. Dure to governement pressures, kids nowadays are pushed more and more, even going as far as teaching languages that they won't need for the years to come and teaching math even before kids can correctly raise four fingers when asked to. Those schools have seemingly also think that they need to be doing the "good" parenting, some already going as far as officially ban every candy related activity like Saint Martin (festival that is similar to halloween, kids walking from door to door to get candy) preparations because it involves candy. So while not per se seeing kids as inferior, they do view parents as inferior, with a government viewing kids as unable to grow insecure or burning out.

Secondary school (aged 12 to 16 or 18, depending on the level/grade) does seem to view students as inferior, though it is more a teacher thing than a school thing. There are great teachers who teach to help students discover the world of their speciality, whether that is a language, anything scientific, or whatever, but they are outnumbered by the ones who teach because the students "do not know and do need to know". The better teachers take a position of what I like to call relaxed superiority. They take superiority without viewing students as inferior.

Further education then splits, there is average education that trains people for jobs that require doing, and higher education that prepares people for jobs that require thinking, to put it very black and white. Average education is the way you describe in their actions, but not in their motives. Teachers there have to make themselves up as superior to keep control of those classrooms, as there are a lot of students there who are (mainly because of age -under 18- or learning disability) tough to keep focussed. the moment those students feel superior or equal, they might start getting annoying and ruin the teaching for themselves and their classmates. If it proves that it is not needed, they can always lower their status to a more equal one, but as it is easier to go to equal from superiority than the other way around, they start with grabbing control of the class. Here you can occasionally see that teachers view their students as inferior, because they have to, especially at the educations where you mainly find men, after all the teachers need to overrule a bunch of beings filled with a high dose of testosteron. The inferiority is no negative inferiority, it is the kind of inferiority that has them work for approval. If you show dedication, skill no longer matters, teachers will lower their inferior image. So no inferiority based on knowledge and skill, but willingness to learn. Teachers will often also refer to them as children, not in a bad way, but because that is how you need to treat them.

higher education does not require that, mainly attributed to more maturity of the students -aged around 20- and to their willingness to learn. Teachers there often treat the students as equal. I even once discussed various things for my graduation paper with my teacher over a casual cup of coffee in the cantina as equals, debating possible explanations for things. Of course, that can happen in Average Education as well, but teachers there will not take that as a starting position.

Now, you could say, 'not all students are the same'. True, very true. But every teacher who says that his dream is customized education where every student is approached at his own level and interests, had not enough experience as a teacher. Currently education (in my country) is already pushing the boundaries of what is possible on the area of customized education, and it is still at least 90% one-size-fits-all education. Society simply does not have the resources.

My opinion is that society needs to grow thicker skin, given that "inferior treatment" of students in both our countries are at the same level of inferiority. Because any less inferior treating in education around here means that students will be given teddy bears and blankets so they can cry if they make a single mistake in grammar, or be given a box of chocolates as apology for them getting a bad score on a test.


In my opinion, school seem to have in mind to produce something valuable out of students due to their self interest and this valuable end result hasn't got for focus to make students stronger, but to make them economically more impressive.

No society would invest in education if the economical output was lower than the economical input, not until we find a way to make the more socialistic and communistic economical systems actually work or find a way to have capitalism run on special snowflakes. Basically you need to find a way to prevent corruption in a system that encourages corruption before making the output of education less economically significant to the total economy, good luck there. As I already said in my earlier post, in society mnemonics is and always will be inferior to technology.

Besides all that, I think that mnemonics would be more in place as a course presented to kids aged around 15, instead of forced onto kids of every age. Not sure if more countries have it, but around here secondary schools often offer special classes on various subjects, that often last two months, with one class a week. Subjects like filmmaking, calligraphy, various sports, whatever the school likes to offer.

16 January, 2017 - 22:00
Joined: 3 years 8 months ago

Frances Yates in 'The Art of Memory' talks about how a classically trained memory was crucial in ancient times before the invention of the printing press and even cheap paper. Once we had access to inexpensive books with vasts amounts of printed information as well as books we can write in then the need to keep large amounts of information stored in our heads became greatly reduced. Today having huge amounts of information stored in our minds is less of a necessity with instant access to information through the internet. I'm not saying that mnemonics doesn't have worth. It does. But, it's not as crucial as it once was back when you couldn't take notes so easily or quickly access information via a book or search engine. Very specific things today are worth memorizing while others are fine to find quickly online, well unless you want to impress people with trivia knowledge. The practice has simply disappeared for the most part.

17 January, 2017 - 12:01
Joined: 1 month 3 weeks ago

I believe these techniques have great potential in a schooling environment. I know I was expected to memorize all kinds of stuff, and my schooling would have turned out quite differently if I had these techniques at my disposal!

I have a two-year-old daughter and I fully intend to arm her with these tools. So just out of curiosity, what age do you think is the youngest to begin teaching memory techniques? Clearly, I need to wait for her to learn to speak first(!), but this thread got me thinking about when an appropriate time would be to start.

18 January, 2017 - 04:15
Joined: 1 year 9 months ago


So just out of curiosity, what age do you think is the youngest to begin teaching memory techniques?

the youngest age is the age where she decides that she wants to learn it. If she doesn't want to learn it, because of whatever reason, don't push it.

18 January, 2017 - 05:26
Joined: 1 month 3 weeks ago

Thank you Mayarra. I will not push her, of course. But my question was more about what age in general are kids first able to understand and implement these techniques. If you were to put this into a school curriculum, for example, what grade would you introduce it?

This is really just a question out of curiosity.

18 January, 2017 - 06:33
Joined: 1 year 9 months ago

My daughter started back when she was 4,5 years old. Though she has been revealed to be a special case from the start, prefering to play with her mind (make puzzles, reading, building with lego and stuff like that) rather roleplaying than toys like most of her age. She is the type of kid who loves knowing more than playing (resulting in a very worried and slightly angry teacher)

18 January, 2017 - 08:38
Joined: 1 month 3 weeks ago

Thank you. That is very helpful.

27 January, 2017 - 08:30
Joined: 5 years 1 month ago

William, you are evaluating the value of memory techniques by considering how effective they are at helping us to achieve a certain aim of memorizing certain things along with the societal value of achieving this aim.

In my opinion, this is like analyzing the value of weight lifting techniques by considering how effective they are at helping us to achieve a certain of lifting certain things along with the societal value of achieving this aim. Weight lifting is a much bigger sport than memory sports is and yet it isn't taught is schools either. But then again, in school, the need for strength to lift things isn't particularly important. If lifting were important, then I bet you that weight lifting techniques would be taught. Don't you agree?

I would also disagree with you on the idea that having huge amount of information to store in our minds is or should be the objective of memory techniques. If you ask top mnemonics for instance, will they tell you that their motivation to excel at the sport as to do with a desire to have huge amount of information in their heads? No. Dominique O'Brien says he got hooked on it because he had to give up school at 16 because he was such a slow learner and could not concentrate. He found memory technique allowed him to overcome these things. Nelson Dellis was motivated by concerns about the health of the mind when he discovered that the Alzheimer Disease his relative died of could be mitigated with memory techniques. Metivier says it cured his depression, improved his mental health. Ron White thinks memory training made him a much better person.

Okay, then there are champ like Alex Mullen who claimed that it was the practical aspect of the whole thing which got him into the sport but if it weren't from his interest in the sport, I doubt he would have gained the skill he now has. And Alex does mention how important confidence is to him as he competes. Increasing the level of confidence in students, isn't that a valuable objective? Memory techniques as a sport in itself does deserve to be taught and students should develop a certain competency at it that is verifiable by the kind of memory scores that can only be achieved with the techniques. I think there is no serious way to argue against that.

When phones first appeared, they would argue that it wasn't something that had much value, except in war, and that there was therefore no point in trying to develop them. I think we're at that same level of thinking when it comes to memory techniques.

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