The 1850 edition of Noah Webster's Dictionary defines "rote" as: "To fix in memory by means of frequent repetition." That certainly is the essence of what we mean by rote memorization. My 1988 dictionary, however, defines "rote" as: "A fixed, mechanical way of doing something." That definition misses the mark of what memorization is all about. The true purpose of rote memorization in education is to create automaticity, so that, for example, when a child sees a letter or group of letters he or she automatically says the sounds. The child does not have to think about it. The response is automatic.
The idea that there is little or nothing to be learned from "Old Dead Guys" is a pretty ridiculous notion. In the first place, everything we have today was built on their shoulders. They labored and toiled, they investigated and invented, they suffered and died. There is so much we can learn by studying their lives, because they experienced it all: from birth to adulthood to old age to the final journey into eternity.
The U.S. Department of Education has created the largest computerized database of personal information on American students ever gathered by any government in history. The exact personal and intimate facts in this database are outlined in the Student Data Handbook for Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education (NCES 94-303), released in 1994. Comprised of 228 pages plus about 100 pages of appendices, this handbook can be obtained from the U.S. Dept. of Education. Send for your own copy and prepare to be appalled. Or just read this article and find out what to do.
The late South African economist William Hutt, in his 1964 book, The Economics of the Colour Bar, said that one of the supreme tragedies of the human condition is that those who have been the victims of injustices and oppression "can often be observed to be inflicting not dissimilar injustices upon other races."