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Clio's Temple

Brute memorization

Both on the way to and from Greenwood today, I heard readings of the Gettysburg Address. The first was delivered by NPR journalists. The second was delivered by a variety of persons from different fields; all 5 living presidents participated.

This put me in mind of Mrs. Harrell's 4th Grade class.  She was a great one for making us memorize and recite in class. I suppose there will always be differences of opinion about this. Some progressive educators pooh-pooh requiring students to commit speeches or poetry to memory, arguing that this doesn't build the higher-order learning they think is important.

I suppose there's some truth in such views. However, I feel fortunate that I was one of those unlucky ones who had to do routine recitations in class. As I recall, Lincoln developed the characteristic cadences of his speech from his voracious reading. I further recall that the Bible, Shakespeare's plays, and Robert Burns's poetry all had major influences on the way he spoke in public. Not that I will ever have Lincoln's ability to say a lot in a few words; but I can dream, can't I?

When one has a head full of trivia, the random connections one sometimes makes can be interesting.  The 100th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address came exactly three days before JFK's assassination. Because the national attention was diverted to the horrifying news from Dallas, the anniversary went almost unnoticed. On a visit to Gettysburg some years ago, I was strolling through the National Cemetery and noticed a military headstone for a man who died June 6, 1944. That in turn triggered a recollection of one of JFK's comments: "The cost of freedom is high, but Americans have always paid it." It's one of the sad ironies of history that his death, coming at the time it did,  underscored that remark with particular force.

A hundred years from now, what will our descendants say about our stance toward the freedoms which Lincoln so eloquently celebrated 150 years ago?

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