For many years now, I have had my classes memorize poetry a couple of times a year: "There Will Come Soft Rains" by Sara Teasdale, "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley, and/or "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrea.
Over the past decade, the assignment has become much more difficult for a larger number of students. This year, I think I have hit the wall. They might be able to remember a stanza at a time, and that is about it. They stumble through the poem stanza by stanza, and frequently still need prompting. (I have to keep track of how many stanzas they have recited.)
The other night at auditions for the All School Production, the director asked students to hop up on stage and recite the Pledge of Allegiance so that they could be heard clearly. It was horrifying how many students needed prompting. At least 75% of the students couldn't say it without help. The other 25% left out words or phrases. I was stunned. (And I'm having them memorize "Invictus"? What the heck am I thinking? How about the Pledge of Allegiance? Wowsa! I had no idea!)
A girl in class told me that she can't recite the Lord's Prayer unless she is in church. She says she just can't remember it.
I'm pretty sure it is a sign of the times, and it really concerns me as to what memory issues our whole society faces in the future. Kids don't need to remember anything, because any information they need is at their finger tips. (That is if they can remember what it is that they need to be looking for!) And what are we losing? Our collective memories.
Where will it end? I'm not really sure. Fortunately, I'll probably be too dead to care. Just don't say I didn't tell you!