Everyone, who has been teaching for many years now, knows how learning has changed, since we started. We are now requested to be entertaining, dynamic, technological and on this purpose we are continuously overwhelmed by new educational theories in a sort of didactic frenzy. Another thing I keep observing every year is that school books have become way less extensive than they used to be with a great deals of patterns, photos and alluring covers. When I was a high school student, schoolbooks were made of words only, dull and the very few pictures were usually/unfortunately placed at the very end of the book, so when we had a daily assignment of twenty pages, twenty meant twenty, no discount.
Books nowadays are 50% made of pictures. Learning must have a visual and quick impact to catch the students’ interest, who actually strain in being focused for more than 20 minutes. One of the most recent learning theories is to segment the lesson in 3, 4 different moments in order to keep their attention constantly alive. But, is this what we have become ? Comedians who seek for the audience’s clapping by means of a good laugh or the wonder of a magic trick? As, there is another thing I noticed. There has been a growing lexical gap between me and them in time, and I don’t mean in English, but in our language: Italian. Not long ago, I remember translating the word “bedside” into “capezzale” and they looked at me as if I had all of a sudden started to speak German. We are talking about 18 year old teenagers who have never come across a simple word like that and which they understood only translating it literally from the English: bed= letto, side = lato, “ al lato del letto”= “capezzale”. They are of age and can vote. What has become clear to me is that the outcome all our endeavors in order to keep them away from the “boredom-land” of activities like reading, writing etc. has only brought to a dramatic impoverishment of their language eventually.
Several studies have demonstrated that the outcome of the decrease in lexical knowledge and the impoverishment of the language consists not only in the reduction of the vocabulary used, but also in the linguistic subtleties that allow to elaborate and formulate a complex thought. The gradual disappearance of tenses, for example, gives rise to a thought almost always in the present, limited to the moment: incapable of projections in time. How is it possible to capture a temporality, a succession of elements in time, whether past or future, and their relative duration, without a language that distinguishes between what could have been, what has been, what is, what could be, and what will be after what might have happened, actually happened?
The use of capital letters and punctuation has become on option of late. An increasing number of my students (who theoretically are supposed to be used to studying Latin, philosophy, physics..) are absolutely refractory to start the sentence with the capital letter , for example,– due to the extensive usage of WhatsApp, I know -, but, every now and then, they use it with some nouns, like “ Book”, for instance. Why? Are you German? No useful answer is produced, but distraction. Let alone punctuation. They master “the stream of consciousness” technique without having read a single line from Joyce’s Ulysses; it just comes natural. These “deadly blows” to precision and variety of expression are but symptoms of the difficulty in organizing thinking, which affects not only learning, by the ways. Fewer words, fewer conjugated verbs, lack of speech organization mean less ability to express emotions and process a thought. Without words to construct an argument, complex thinking is made impossible. The poorer the language, the more the thought disappears. If there are no thoughts, there are no critical thoughts and there is no thought without words.
The historical moment we are living, dominated by mass medias way of communicating, reflects exactly what we have said so far. What is this constant polarization in any matter : vaccines, masks, politics, football, but the consequence of the habit of simplification, which leads to the rarefaction of critical thought? We are no longer used to seeing or better understanding the nuances of a question; everything is black or white, and you know why? Because it is the simplest thing to do, but “ the truth is rarely pure and never simple”.
School should give the tools to understand what is complex, rather than yielding to this process of simplification. Let’s start from words again. Let’s make read and practice the language in its most diverse forms, even if it looks complicated, especially if it is complicated, because in this effort there is freedom. Everything that creates complexity is the real architect of the improvement of human mind. Without complex thinking there is not any truth.