This section is from the book "Principles Of Sociology With Educational Applications", by Frederick R. Clow. Also available from Amazon: Principles of sociology with educational applications.
Of the various forms of communication the spoken word is the one which surpasses all the others in importance. With the conceptual thinking which it presupposes it most distinctly separates man from the lower animals.
. . . Man lives in a world of words. ... To those who can use words so as to influence the rest of us we give society's great rewards. To the combinations of ideas which have been worked out in words, we owe changes that have later been wrought out in things. . . .
. . . When I utter the word "dog," or hear the sound which comes from uttering that word, the partial or verbal reaction expands instantly into the general bodily attitude appropriate to the experience of seeing a dog. If I am afraid of dogs, the essential part of the experience will be a feeling of violent contraction of my internal muscles and a desire to run. If I am fond of dogs, I shall have a reaching out of all my muscles and a feeling of satisfaction. There may be, and often is, no image in the mind at all. The word is part of a system of behavior rather than part of a series of pictures. The experiences attached to words thus include as important elements the feeling attitudes appropriate to the object. ... - Judd, Psychology of High School Subjects, pp. 161, 147.
. . . Since language represents the physical conditions that have been subjected to the maximum transformation in the interests of social life - physical things which have lost their original quality in becoming social tools - it is appropriate that language should play a large part compared with other appliances. By it we are led to share vicariously in past human experience, thus widening and enriching the experience of the lIbid., pp. 62, 63.
present. We are enabled, symbolically and imaginatively, to anticipate situations. In countless ways, language condenses meanings that record social outcomes and presage social outlooks. So significant is it of a liberal share in what is worth while in life that unlettered and uneducated have become almost synonymous. ... - Dewey, Democracy and Education, pp. 45, 46.
The art of writing distinguishes civilized man from barbarian. The art of printing, by which it is possible to make any desired number of identical copies of a writing, brought civilization within reach of the masses and ushered in the modern world. Within the last century devices for rapid communication to long distances have made all the world one and ushered in a social revolution which is still in progress and the outcome of which we can only dimly foresee. Without writing and communication by electricity, democracy on a large scale would not be possible.
The teaching of the language arts has always been the backbone of the curricula of the schools. After the invention of writing the important subjects to be taught were reading and writing; since the invention of printing the reading of books has outweighed every other.
Thanks to our growing dependence on the vast impersonal organization that goes on far above our heads, reading is taking the place of oral intercourse as a source of ideas. Machinery and shop supervision are squeezing spoken discourse out of the working hours of wage-earners, while the reading habit restricts it in their leisure. Most urban minds feed on newspapers as silk-worms feed on mulberry leaves. Upon the consciousness of multitudes the daily sheet stamps impressions, ideas, and beliefs, just as the Hoe press prints endlessly the same thing upon miles of white paper. - American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 22, p. 317, Ross, "The Organization of Thought."
. . . Probably a child in school reads more words in a year than he hears or speaks in all the class exercises which he attends. He becomes, therefore, as we sometimes say vaguely in our general discussions of school activities, eye-minded. He will begin to establish preferences for writing as a means of expressing his own ideas as over against oral speech. As a result, we find that ordinary school training has limited very greatly the powers of oral expression in most children. Many a child and many an adult finds himself able to work out an idea if he is given a pencil and paper, while he is very far from fluent in oral speech. . . . - Judd, Psychology of High-School Subjects, pp. 152, 153.
Last winter one of my letters home failed to reach its destination and my people were worried. But they did not have to wait for letters to come and go; the telephone settled their anxiety in a few minutes. This ease and swiftness of communication holds groups of people together. Several years ago I belonged to a group of teachers. They are now widely scattered, but through letters the common interest is kept alive and we still share each other's ideas.
One of the girls of my childhood group now lives with her parents in a little village. For ten years she has not been much in society and hardly outside of her home town. And yet she is as well posted on what is going on in the world and is as good company as those members of the group who have had the advantage of education in college. The secret of it is that she reads - papers, magazines, and good books. She has a more reflective and thoughtful mind than some who have been rushed along in company with others.
The following example illustrates the enlarged communication which boys desire as they approach puberty; also the enlargement of communication which has come everywhere in recent years; it further shows how this enlargement of communication tends to cause the disintegration of local groups. The writer of the selection grew up in an out-of-the-way region where there were no railroads:
In my early days communication with other gangs was unknown. We were contented with the fun we had playing with the members of our own school. But when the grammar school years came and our baseball team was organized, all of us were eager to get in contact with other teams and compete with them. Arrangements for games were made by mail or horseback, the latter being almost always used because a fast horse overcame space much more readily than the mail which was carried from village to village by stagecoach. Finally the telephone and daily papers entered the community. Then of course it was very easy for the teams to communicate. We would even keep track of the games an opponent played with other teams to get an idea of the practice that was necessary for us before our next game. The daily paper, especially the Sunday edition, was of great interest to us all.
Then came a strange result. This wider communication operated to disintegrate the small local group. We no longer needed to meet the gang to talk baseball - and that had been a strong factor in keeping up our team; we could stay right at home and the rural mail carrier brought the results of the previous day's games right to our doors. Our manager and best player on the team was the first one to be influenced by the papers. He read about Ty Cobb, Si Young, and other star players, and longed to be one of them. In the spring of 1904 he left us to join a league team. This so weakened our team that we unanimously agreed to give it up, and consequently for a long time our gang had no regular meetings. A team has since been started, but I am certain it will never equal the original team.
Of all the language arts, conversation still holds the foremost place, at least in the education of the young. The following selection illustrates this, and also some of the modern enlargements of communication:
In our cooking club the chief means of communication was conversation, though writing and printing were great helps. We used cookbooks and homemade recipes. Each member had her own cookbook besides a notebook filled with the common recipes which were in use in the neighborhood. A correspondence was carried on with cooking clubs in near-by towns. We learned of still other clubs by letter, and so our correspondence widened. In these various ways interesting information went back and forth as to the most economical and successful ways of making various dainties. At the earliest of our meetings we had our mothers come in and instruct us in regard to the mixing of batter and other fundamentals, also to judge our cooking, for as yet we had no standards by which to know whether anything was good, better, or best.
At one time a woman came to the town and gave lectures on cooking. Hearing of our club (she stayed at the home of one of our members) she came to our meeting one Saturday afternoon and talked and demonstrated for us. After that we occasionally received letters from her inquiring after our success and inclosing some new recipe which she thought we would like.
Telephones were of course in frequent requisition. Every Saturday morning the bell would ring incessantly, and over and over again one would have to answer the question, "What are you going to make today?" Then would follow the inevitable chatter, "Why, so was I, but now maybe I had better try - " and so on until it was sometimes nearly time to start for the afternoon meeting before work was begun.