“Learning by rote” is a phrase used to dismiss the boon of learning by heart.

The difference between heart and rote was noted by Shakespeare: speaking by rote means speaking, not . . .

. . . by the matter which your heart prompts you,
But with such words that are but roted in
Your tongue, though but bastards and syllables
Of no allowance to your bosom’s truth.

Coriolanus, c.1606.R76

The idea that teaching should not require learning by heart on the grounds that it is mere rote-learning is attributed to the philosopher of education John Dewey (1859–1952), but that’s not what he meant, and he did not use the word “rote”. What he was against was not the engagement of memory—by, for instance, learning poetry—but the practice of unloading large amounts of information onto children for no good reason. What he was for was education that connects with culture, community and nature. He distinguished between going through the motions of learning and . . .

. . . the readjustment of mental attitude, the enlarged and sympathetic vision, the sense of growing power, and the willing ability to identify both insight and capacity with the interests of the world and man. . . . [Culture is] the growth of the imagination in flexibility, in scope, and in sympathy, till the life which the individual lives is informed with the life of nature and society.R77

That’s lean education.


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David Fleming
Dr David Fleming (2 January 1940 – 29 November 2010) was a cultural historian and economist, based in London, England. He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a pioneer of post-growth economics, and a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association. His wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, 'Lean Logic' and 'Surviving the Future', published posthumously in 2016. These in turn inspired the 2020 launches of both BAFTA-winning director Peter Armstrong's feature film about Fleming's perspective and legacy - 'The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation?' - and Sterling College's unique 'Surviving the Future: Conversations for Our Time' online courses. For more information on all of the above, including Lean Logic, click the little globe below!

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