Tyranny of U.S. Based Education; the Art of Memory as Only Hope for Passing Tests

Instructions on reading this article: Put Pink Floyd’s song The Wall on Loop/Replay until finished reading: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YR5ApYxkU-U

One of my earliest and most impacting memories in life was when I was about 8 years old. I was upstairs playing video games when my third grade teacher knocked on our front door to tell my parents that I was not going to pass the grade that year, and that I would either have to attend summer school, or repeat the grade again next year. Being a child and looking forward to summer off, I decided to repeat the grade instead the next year. For the rest of my public education up until getting my G.E.D., I struggled immensely with school. Coming from a family who never valued education, personal development and growth, reading, or learning anything other than hillbilly recreational activities and partying, combined with me going to inner-city public schools in Portland, Oregon, where the teachers seemed to only care about students who already do well in their classes, I was left to just drift aimlessly throughout each grade. For the life of me I could not focus enough on boring school subjects that no one ever spent more than 2 minutes one-on-one with me explaining. I never had any classes on effective study skills or reading improvement, memory techniques, or anything of that nature. The teachers seemed all bent on their own retirement benefits - I could feel it and I could hear them talking to each other about everything they would get out of teaching, other than helping struggling students like myself. It seemed that my only hope of escape from the poverty I was born and raised in would be a good education, and since my inability to pass the necessary college classes were holding me back, things felt hopeless. As I said, the only hope for intelligent people born with a low working memory, who want to get a high quality education at a good University, is to learn the ancient art of memory, and apply the techniques for the tyrannical tests that government legislators and universities force on us.

I read my first book in life when I turned 18 yeas old when I got my first library card. From that moment on I read and read and read everything I could that fascinated me - philosophy, history, biographies, business and investing, science, creativity, memory, reading improvement books, and so on. I was still deathly afraid of attending college though. I still had no support group of peers who I could relate to. Eventually at age 25 I started attending college, but still felt like just another number, with no real mentors or caring teachers. No matter how hard I tried to remember for tests, if it wasn’t fascinating to me, I would forget much of it for the exams. I did get many credits, A’s and B’s, but when it came to language learning, science, or mathematics classes, I would fail during test time. The algebra classes to me were extremely stressful, due to my natural low working memory, and I would practice all the homework, get tutoring, and attend all classes, but during test time most of that information I learned for algebra would totally disappear. I do not have dyslexia, but it seemed like I did. I knew all about memory techniques, but had no support group of others to practice with. I only recently decided the only way for me to get enthusiastic about the art of memory is by starting my own free group, to garner enthusiasm with others in a kind of symbiotic relationship. The only way I was going to be able to pass these college exams was if I developed an extremely good memory for science, languages, and mathematics - because they reward you for memory in U.S. schools, much more so than creativity or analytical thinking. The education is probably much better in the suburban schools where the higher priced home taxes pay for much better schools, but not in the inner-city. As John Taylor Gatto and Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt point out, the current U.S. education system has it’s roots in the Prussian military model of conformity.

The only possible way many people can get the high grades demanded by colleges and Universities in the U.S., is often to just memorize for tests, regardless of understanding. As I pointed out in another recent post, your working memory is the best predictor of how well you do in school - for more than your intelligence quotient. The Art of Memory as a skill to save us from this tyranny of the U.S. based education forced testing, is one of the best weapons in this war against compulsory schooling. It also teaches us creativity, originality, self-discipline, organization, and mental focus. This article is my call to mental arts for us being forced to pass mind numbing tests and for those educators who loath giving those tests - to teach your students how to defeat the tyranny being forced on us, with ingenuity and cleverness. If reading is our chief weapon in the constant warfare against ignorance, then the Art of Memory is our primary leverage against the tyranny of tests in our education systems. So arm yourself with the knowledge, techniques, journeys/palaces, and methods of Mnemonics. They are your only line of defense, unless you were born with an extremely good working memory - in which case you will probably do well despite not using mnemonics. However even if a student finds a subject extremely boring to learn by rote, they will find it exciting and challenging to learn it with mnemonics, because now their own creative originality and imagination is engaged - they become active in the learning process. Sure, studies have shown that the worst students are those who think that memorizing is the best way to learn, those studies also don’t factor in that those students are much more likely to have bad working memories in the first place, to have had a bad educational upbringing, and that they know if they don’t try to memorize the material (which is what they ultimately are tested on, is memory for the most part), then they will definitely fail.

Below are some excellent further resources on this topic. I do not agree with everything that is said in these videos, but they offer very interesting perspectives with which to see our current education system. Public education as we know it might very well be a total waste of time for anyone who is not sent to elite boarding schools or top level private or suburban schools. I am generalizing, but the generality has some merit.

Video clips below of Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt served as the head of policy at the Department of Education during the first administration of Ronald Reagan. I do not agree with or believe everything she says, but it seems to ring true on so many levels that I experienced in the inner-city schools I attended while growing up.

John Taylor Gatto:

Pink Floyd’s The Wall:

A better approach to education: Jo Boaler, Professor of Mathematics Education Stanford University


Tony Buzan at The Great Education Debate: Creativity vs. Curriculum

Articles on Countries with Far Better Educations than the U.S.

Finland and Singapore Education Systems top in the World:

Have you tried the Feynman Technique?

Indubitably I have, but it was a natural progression of learning other subjects for me. I will keep that in mind more, however, for continued study.