Memory and Retention
Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board
of Psychiatry and Neurology
Accumulating a fund of
knowledge is an important aspect of mental
Whether or not certain events or information is
retained in memory is dependent
upon an individual's love for the subject matter and it's dramatic,
emotional, auditory, and visual impact.
|For example, it is common to effortlessly
remember the scenes of an engrossing movie for many decades.
However, a concerted effort to memorize dry, irrelevant data on a page
usually results only in short recall.
Through the use of
rote learning methods - lengthy, repetitive study of written
words - many schools attempt to coerce students to force information
for lengthy recall. This produces only the illusion of knowledge:
increasing test scores. Such a process, however, is extremely
stressful and inefficient when done to excess: It does not
utilize the whole brain, and results in more harm than benefit.
In today's world, the student's mind becomes
split into two separate,
disconnected spheres. While the left brain is used for school,
the right brain and limbic system are utilized for activities that take
place outside of school. The student never has the opportunity to
use these spheres in cooperation. In his mind, work and play
become vast opposites - two diametrically opposed entities. He
cannot imagine a world in which they could become one and the same.
When children play, it often takes the form of
work. They might play 'house' or build things, often
with the fantasy that it is real.
If education simultaneously involved all parts of the brain - in a
manner of the student's choosing and without pressure to
please someone else - work and play would become one. If,
however, fear is the most powerful motivating factor in our present
educational system, work and play can never be unified.
Tests and grades tools both of control and fear.
The basal ganglia, large
structures deep within the brain, control the intensity of mental
activity. When a human is under extreme pressure, his brain shifts
to "emergency mode."
The brain is only meant to enter
this mode for very short periods of time, and generally does so only in
a time of great danger. For example, an individual would
|enter this mode if being attacked by an animal.
Students - under pressure and excessive stress that persists
for months and years - the brain can develop this mode of functioning as
a habit. Over time, these individuals are driven into a
hyperactive state, which is beyond their control.
person's brain can perceive his situation as being under siege from forces threatening his very survival, even
when those forces are absent. If this state of chronic fear and
hyperactivity - emergency mode - becomes a habit, it will eventually
prove damaging to his health. Even after an individual leaves
school, events that occur later in his life may needlessly trigger the
An extensive, relevant
fund of information is important to success later in
life, but must be acquired in a manner consistent with healthy
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