Memory or Critical Thinking : What Does Your Child Really Need?

Whether it is enunciated by a Brazilian teacher, holder of one of the most renowned universities in the world, or by the anonymous father of a middle class child, enrolled in a school, also Brazilian, also of excellent reputation. Judgment, shocking, influences public opinion and helps to form a common sense: to leave behind the teaching based on memorization, typical of past centuries, and to replace it with teaching that aims at the construction of critical thinking and the formation of competence for Solving real-life problems is the only way forward if we are to form a generation of Brazilians capable of generating, and sustaining, democracy, freedom and prosperity.

Hard to contain the momentum of immediate adhesion, no? Let us reflect, however.


The Greeks told a story in their myths. After life, the soul, sent to judgment to Hades, region of the dead in the depths of the earth, it found Charon, a boatman who took them between five rivers there.

One among so many variants of this narrative said that some, judged virtuous, went to the Champs Elysées. Only they could return to the world of the living. But before they passed by the last of the rivers, the Léthê , and they drank of its waters. That made them forget everything.

But here it appears, also in the mythological narratives, a goddess: Mnemósine. She embodied the memory, preserved it from oblivion, made enlivening enumerations that protected from the confusion caused by the infinity of things. Wife of Zeus, the Muses were born to them .

An original tradition said that they were three. On Mount Helicon, in Boeotia, a Greek region in the Gulf of Corinth, until now much visited by its natural beauties, were worshiped as protectors and inspirers of Arts and Sciences, whose content could only be uttered and transmitted orally.

Because of the fugacity of words, the transmission and preservation of the contents of the Arts and Sciences were constantly beset by the dangers of oblivion. From names Melete, Mneme, and Aoide , the actions by which the three were personified fit well into the type of function they performed: protect from this danger of oblivion. The first, he meditated, the second, kept in his mind, the third, at last, he sang. A beautiful intuition about the labors of knowing. And how melodious repetition enchants and helps to retain in memory.

Soon Reason succeeded the time of the Myth. But we can not say that the triad of the great Greek philosophers undermined the mythical intuitions on the question of memory and forgetfulness by laying the foundations of what until today composes our idea of Science.

One of them attributed greater intelligence and ability to learn to beings that can be used as reminiscences. And he noted that the retention of the images of facts and experiences belonged to the sensitive part of the soul, while the act of remembrance belonged to their intelligible part. From him came the notion that the balance between memory and reasoning was a royal way to Science.

But even though of long and lasting influence, his proposal did not prevent that, one time or another, among his successors in the office of philosophizing, he insisted on mnemonic techniques as a privileged way of access to knowledge.

While this contrast remained, teaching practices oscillated between now and then emphasizing that as the mainstays of knowledge. Some even giving an esoteric sense to memory. Others use it as a resource to make the art of oral communication more elegant and effective in the art of persuading.


Until the arrival of the modern times at the turn of the fifteenth to the sixteenth century .

From then on, and increasingly, it was judged that knowledge would depend on the mental machinery of the self . Analyzing the functioning of the knowing self has become the great question of Philosophy between the end of the Middle Ages and the Modern Age.

In this context, reasoning for the attainment of Science will become king. The result of this, in Philosophy and in the debate on scientific knowledge, was called criticism: no knowledge could be considered adequate if one did not first criticize the process by which the self knows.

Philosophical-scientific criticism reverberated in the teaching scene. Under such influence, the protomodern pedagogies began to sourly criticize everything that seemed to appeal to memory in learning , even if this resource did not grant the esoteric and restrictive sense of just retaining in mind a handful of facts and information. Even if the use of this recourse to memory was nobly presented as a preparation for the use of the exclusively human arts, the Arts of Language. The corollary of this process appeared, during the passage from the nineteenth century to the twentieth century, in the so-called active pedagogies defended in the movement called New School . You would learn better by doing something and not talking about something.

Well. In High School we learned that the first areas of knowledge to be released from what was called tutelage of Philosophy and Theology about Science were those that concerned the knowledge of nature. It is said to us that the physical and natural sciences arose. This began with the study of the behavior of bodies in physics and of the substances that make up the materials in chemistry.

This “liberation” also occurred then in the field of the study of living beings. A new Science was born: Biology. Little by little everything that was studied in the scope of Natural Philosophy or Philosophy of Nature, and even Philosophy of the Soul, began to be researched under new labels: Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Psychology.

Biology, as Science, was born anti-capitalist and evolutionist. Antivitalist because it says that there is nothing in the living being whose explanation can not be reduced to the physical-chemical terms. Any reference to the soul was discarded. Evolutionist because the present forms of living beings, including men, would result from a process of transformation of the beings in each other and because these transformations would be explained by the adaptation to the environment directed by the force of the natural selection. With survival of the fittest.

The first US professor to earn a Ph.D. in Psychology was Stanley Hall . He said that no one could be a psychologist if he were not a biologist. This shows us that nascent scientific psychology has been a tributary of biology. One of the pioneers of the school movement paraphrased it: no one can be a pedagogue if he is not a biologist . And this confirms the influence of Biology on Pedagogy, via Psychology.

Psychology was the Science that contributed most to Education throughout the first half of the twentieth century. This can teach us something about the as educational theories were and are still influenced by the ideas that celebrated psychologists developed and promoted. And the relationship between Pedagogy and Biology, via Psychology, leaves footprints in the fact that Jean Piaget, by far the psychologist whose name is most remembered by educators, was a biologist and founded his studies on cognitive development in a hypothesis coming from Biology .

By the end of the nineteenth century, the notion that everyone should be educated was consolidated in the USA and France. These ideas have spread throughout the world. The consequence of this movement was the expansion of national systems of public education.

A new physical and social setting of education was constituted. Millions of children, thousands of schools and teachers, learning and teaching, in thousands of classrooms around the world. In the first half of the twentieth century, in more developed countries, in the second half of the same century, in the later developing countries.

In Brazil, enthusiasm for education and pedagogical optimism were expressions in which historians of Brazilian education mirrored this movement during the first decades of the twentieth century.

The theoretical ram that gave life to this scenario formed by teachers, students, schools? The amalgam that was forged in Educational Psychology between, on the one hand, the impetus of emancipation and autonomy from scientific-philosophical criticism and the Philosophy of Enlightenment and, on the other, the acceptance of the anti-capitalist and evolutionist postulates of nascent scientific biology .

An irresistible dynamism, created by these factors, besides the fact that, at that moment, its pedagogical implications did not appear clearly, it helps to explain why it was outside the radar of educators the rediscovery of memory by Medicine at the end of the nineteenth century .


Neurologists were beginning to shape a new field of knowledge: neuropsychology . A localist view of memory was reinforced there . She would have a thirst in the brain.

From the 1950s onwards, a brain resection operation aimed at healing a patient whose life was severely affected by seizures of epilepsy inaugurated the contemporary era of memory studies. After surgery, epileptic seizures gave way. But different types of memory were affected.

The 30 years of subsequent studies on amnesia, of this and other types, have been encouraging progress . They put us at the gates of an enlightening equation of the working mechanisms of memory. Although some aspects are not yet fully understood.

This progress has shown that the hippocampus, and its adjacencies, are crucially involved in the acts of memorizing and remembering. Not so much because she, the memory, resides there, so to speak, but because to this structure, especially the hippocampus, and its adjacencies, information arrives from innumerable entrances, the codification of which is consolidated there, remaining as ready and available for remembrance, Depending on many factors, including emotional factors.

It seems like a detective story, that of the relationship between memory and forgetfulness in the process of knowing that, back in Ancient Greece, it began with suspicion. Or a novel in which is drawn, in epilogue, a horizon of happy ending.

Some “idiot of objectivity,” as Nelson Rodrigues put it, may want to warn us that, beyond the horizon, what really comes is infinite space. To which we would reply: but the poet tells us that ” beyond the horizon there must be some beautiful place to live in peace “.


We have reason to hope so.

Progress in unraveling the working mechanisms of memory reveals the genius of the intuitions of the Greeks, poets, or philosophers. And it reinforces the expectation of reaching a pedagogical place where the happy coexistence between memory and reasoning would be for the sake of learning.

Empirical findings obtained with the use of ultramodern technological tools for functional and structural mapping of the brain and techniques developed at the interface between molecular biology and genetic studies, along with the theoretical advances obtained in this field of memory studies, bring water to those mills of the first narratives Myths and philosophical descriptions: there can be no Science that dispenses with memory. Neither learning rooted if the imaginative and rational activity of the intellect is absent . Missing the first, knowledge is lame. Absent the second, learning loses meaning. What has been retained becomes a heap of potential uselessness.

Yes, the process that uncovers the relationships between memory and forgetfulness in the process of knowing, for millennia started, and for decades in consolidation, can generate pedagogical benefits.

The main one? The certainty that the most useful moment to build the vigorous and profound basis of learning and knowledge is that period between the age of two and five years when the intellective part of the soul awakens. Under the call of words, when we realize that SOMEONE tells us something. Especially if it is in the melodious and warm form of verses and songs .