When I did my teacher training in the late '80s, advocating any sort of rote learning (or indeed any learning) was about as wise as openly declaring your love for Margaret Thatcher. When I asked how kids were supposed to learn their tables or spellings, everyone laughed at my old fashioned foolishness. This is the modern world, our lecturer told us. There are new and more exciting ways to teach nowadays (and one day there may even be telephones that do not have to be plugged in to the wall.)
This is still the situation today. Critical thinking, group projects and working things out for yourself are far more important than simply learning facts. Why would children need to waste their time and clutter up their brains learning things when we have Google, which can tell us anything we wish to know.
Now my problem with all this is that if you have no facts to compare an answer with, then you can never judge it's authenticity. For example, if I ask you what the Gross Domestic Product of the UK was back in 1970 and you tell me that it was £25, then I need some related knowledge before I can say whether this is likely to be correct or not. We have been brainwashed in teaching to regard everyone's views as equally important and we think that simply having an opinion somehow has some value in itself.
Now whilst I'm not saying that everything should simply be learnt off by heart, I don't agree that it is a waste of time. Rote learning teaches young children to concentrate. We are forever hearing that pupils have much shorter concentration spans than they once had and this is blamed on the increased pace of modern life. Why don't we try and improve their concentration rather than just accepting it? There's also a nice calming effect which we could really do with later on as well.
Repeated practice is also immensely effective and enables you to recall a skill or fact years later. I still say "amo, amas, amat..." whenever anybody asks me whether I did any Latin at school, whereas I just stare blankly with my mouth open if they enquire about anything I did in Geography. I also never had a clue how long division worked, but was perfectly capable of doing it. Debates and peer-centric review? No, just learn and practice and you'll be fine.
(By the way, this post is not meant to offer any support for the teaching of Latin in school, which is a complete and utter waste of time).