Rote learning

memorization technique based on repetition

Rote learning is a memorization technique based on repetition.



  • Learning without thought is labor lost.
  • The Lord said: … These people draw near with their mouths and honor me with the lips while their hearts are far from me, and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote.
  • Nothing taught by force stays in the soul.

Sixteenth centuryEdit

  • We work merely to fill the memory, leaving the understanding empty.
    • Montaigne, Essays (1580), M. Screech, trans. (1991), Book I, ch. 25, “On Schoolmasters’ Learning,” p. 154
  • Learned we may be with another man’s learning: we can only be wise with wisdom of our own.
    • Montaigne, Essays (1580), M. Screech, trans. (1991), Book I, ch. 25, “On Schoolmasters’ Learning,” p. 155

Seventeenth centuryEdit

  • There is frequently more to be learn'd from the unexpected questions of a child than the discourses of men, who talk in a road, according to the notions they have borrowed, and the prejudices of their education.
    • John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693), § 121
  • A learned coxcomb dyeth his mistakes in so much a deeper colour: a wrong kind of learning serveth only to embroider his errors.

Eighteenth centuryEdit

  • It is certainly not a matter of indifference whether I learn something without effort or finally arrive at it myself through my system of thought. In the latter case everything has roots, in the former it is merely superficial.
    • Georg Lichtenberg, The Waste Books (1764-1799), R. J. Hollingdale trans. (2000), F154
  • What a pity it is that ... tutors, both in public and private seminaries of learning, should forget that the forming the manners is more necessary to a finished education than furnishing the minds of youth.
  • The bookful blockhead ignorantly read,
With loads of learned lumber in his head,
With his own tongue still edifies his ears,
And always list’ning to himself appears.
  • The abuse of books kills science. Believing that we know what we have read, we believe that we can dispense with learning it.
    • Rousseau, Emile (1762), A. Bloom, trans. (1979), p. 184

Nineteenth centuryEdit

  • The fact narrated must correspond to something in me to be credible or intelligible. We, as we read, must become Greeks, Romans, Turks, priest and kind, martyr and executioner, must fasten the images to some reality in our secret experience, or we shall learn nothing rightly.
  • The manner of study in ancient times differed from that of the modern age in that the former was the proper and complete formation of the natural consciousness. Putting itself to the test at every point of its existence, and philosophizing about everything it came across, it made itself into a universality that was active through and through. In modern times, however, the individual finds the abstract form ready-made; the effort to grasp and appropriate it is more the direct driving-forth of what is within and the truncated generation of the universal than it is the emergence of the latter from the concrete variety of existence.
  • Frequently, when a person is most convinced that he has understood himself, he is assaulted by the uneasy feeling that he has really only learned someone else’s life by rote.
  • For to occupy every spare moment in reading, and to do nothing but read, is even more paralysing to the mind than constant manual labour, which at least allows those engaged in it to follow their own thoughts.
    • Arthur Schopenhauer, “On books and reading,” Religion: a dialogue, and other essays, T.B. Saunders, trans. (1910)
  • The largest library in disorder is not so useful as a smaller but orderly one; in the same way the greatest amount of knowledge, if it has not been worked out in one's own mind, is of less value than a much smaller amount that has been fully considered. For it is only when a man combines what he knows from all sides, and compares one truth with another, that he completely realises his own knowledge and gets it into his power. A man can only think over what he knows, therefore he should learn something; but a man only knows what he has pondered.
  • Truth that has been merely learned is like an artificial limb, a false tooth, a waxen nose; at best, like a nose made out of another’s flesh; it adheres to us only because it is put on. But truth acquired by thinking of our own is like a natural limb; it alone really belongs to us. This is the fundamental difference between the thinker and the mere man of learning.
  • The young are of age when they twitter like the old; they are driven through school to learn the old song, and, when they have this by heart, they are declared of age.

Twentieth centuryEdit

  • The United States ... celebrates rote vocational training and the singular, amoral skill of making money. It churns out stunted human products, lacking the capacity and vocabulary to challenge the assumptions and structures of the corporate state. It funnels them into a caste system of drones and systems managers. It transforms a democratic state into a feudal system of corporate masters and serfs.
    • Chris Hedges, “Why The United States Is Destroying Education,” April 10, 2011
  • As soon as a thought or word becomes a tool, one can dispense with actually ‘thinking’ it, that is, with going through the logical acts involved in verbal formulation of it. As has been pointed out, often and correctly, the advantage of mathematics—the model of all neo-positivistic thinking—lies in just this ‘intellectual economy.’ Complicated logical operations are carried out without actual performance of the intellectual acts upon which the mathematical and logical symbols are based. … Reason … becomes a fetish, a magic entity that is accepted rather than intellectually experienced.
  • I took the right road to life by conquering it with every step instead of taking possession of it as a tradition for which the young mind has no use. Adults who still derive childlike pleasure from hanging the gifts of a ready-made education on the Christmas tree of a child waiting outside the door to life do not realize how unreceptive they are making children to everything that constitutes the surprise of life.
    • Karl Kraus, “The World of Posters,” Harry Zohn, trans., In These Great Times (Montreal: 1976), p. 42
  • To cultivate the memory we should confide to it only what we understand and love: the rest is a useless burden; for simply to know by rote is not to know at all.
  • What the learned world tends to offer is one second-hand scrap of information illustrating ideas derived from another second-hand scrap of information. The second-handedness of the learned world is the secret of its mediocrity.

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