Someday I will pore over the greatest speeches ever written, and steal all the best phrases.
Recitation is ‘old school’ in some educational circles, but when the language, the music, and the content of what’s being recited is really remarkable, historic, or immortal, we think it’s a lofty goal. Great recitation is often accompanied by wonderful sound and gestural imagery. When we recite great words, we feel with the speaker, we feel heroic, and we feel like we’re there. When children are young, they may not grasp all the meaning and connotations, but usually get much more than they can express, and when they encounter the words again, they will be familiar.
Great words from the past are also an amazingly rich source of vocabulary, word history, allusions, and metaphorical thinking. Well chosen recitation is never mindless parroting, but rather a means for helping students to look beyond their own language, time, and circumstances, for recurring themes and essential truths.
Even William James, who cared very much about passion and interest in education, cautions us that "…learning things by heart is now probably somewhat too much despised."