The loss of speech and how we need to foster speaking and communication in the electronic age
Translated by J. Collis
I believe this is one of the most significant articles on what is becoming the true crisis of our time, namely that as each generation comes forth, more and more cultural skills are being lost. Cultural skills are the things we all take for granted in our dealings with other people, things like reading, writing, basic cultural literacy in terms of shared education and background. That is, we used to take them for granted. Now, it seems that each person presents a new puzzle as to which cultural skills they bring with them and which they do not. And what skills they may have that are no longer honored or used in modern contexts.
What has become clear to anyone who has been watching the trend lines in education in the Western world is that these basic skills are slipping away – reading and writing are at much lower levels than they were even 20 years ago, and compared to 150 years ago, well, it’s just sad how very much we’ve lost in the way of vocabulary, grammar, and ability to write.
As if that weren’t enough, there is now serious evidence that the most fundamental means of communication is also slipping down the cultural slope: speaking and the ability to communicate to others with speech is showing signs of alarming deterioration with each class of children that enters school. A large part of the reason for this devolution, though not the only factor I would hasten to say, is the increasing exposure of very young children to electronic media, recorded voices, electronically amplified voices, etc. Rainer Patzlaff has addressed this issue beautifully, citing not only sound documentation and studies, but offering both by example and by inference a solid picture of why each part of the Waldorf curriculum stands athwart this terrible trend and gives our children what they need to move forward in our culture.
The 18 pages of Childhood Falls Silent are some of the most important reading you may ever do. I hope that everyone who buys a copy shares it with every friend they have. It is not a given by any means that cultural skills, once lost, can be easily restored. Quite the opposite, historically. And yet, there is a solution and it is elucidated in this little booklet: human speech spoken clearly by adults, stories that are complex and spoken, movement training that mimics the movements of voice and music, art training that allows things heard to take imaginative form, drama. In short, those things that are housed within the world of Waldorf education, whether in the classroom or at home.