Remember your very small child’s first speech experiments? The ‘ms’, ‘bs’ and ‘ds’? You surely said, in a matter of fact way “Oh, now she’s using her larynx for more complex phonation than just crying.”
Or just maybe your eyes grew wider and your face became a huge smile of delight and wonder.
And as she came to link sounds into words, link words into phrases, and phrases into coherent sentences charged with meaning, did you just react as you would to hearing light switches click or cars go by?
We all stand in amazement at the astonishing emergence of speech in a young child, yet – how quickly we regard it as ordinary – when it is always way bigger than ordinary. Just as pushing up to stand and smoothly place one foot in front of another is a massive achievement, so is articulating, shaping, getting your tongue around sound sequences.
The 2 achievements are related. We speak because we stand – and language shows a from-way-back-when-wisdom in revealing this. “Stand up for yourself,” and “Speak up for yourself” are almost interchangeable. Both activities have to do with who you really are as an individual and that you know or seek truth.
It is curious that English (and I suspect most languages) has many, many words for how our legs move – walk, run, leap, climb, sprint, stagger, tip-toe, lunge, skip, leg it, stride, kick, limp, step and a good dozen more. There are a mere 2 words for the activities of our immobile ears – hear and listen.
How many for that most mobile part of the face – our mouth and friends? Well – tell, talk, speak, squeak, say, utter, mutter, stutter, titter, chat, whisper, shout, grumble, state and a good dozen more. Interesting that walk and talk rhyme.
So, in a Waldorf school we celebrate and cultivate these two prime human achievements of moving our legs and arms and those ‘limbs’ of our face which move in speech. The day begins with movement. Games to facilitate co-ordination of legs and arms go ‘hand-in-hand’ with spoken rhymes, verses and songs.
The teachers tell the Main Lesson story – they do not read it. The children combine to re-tell it the next day. All cultures have known the impact and fullness of experience in hearing stories round the fire. Literacy cannot healthily happen without the richness of the spoken word. So it is that each child from Class 1 upwards receives, each year, a dedicated verse/poem written by their teacher.
They learn and speak that verse with a growing skill and respect for The Word. In Class 4 the hurdy-gurdy, comfortable speech patterns of early childhood are tossed aside. The 10 year olds have to battle with the curved balls of unexpected beat and almost no rhyme. In a Waldorf high school, those most taciturn and tongue-tied 14/15 year olds are dropped into the most awesome sea of language – a Shakespearian play – which they perform for the public.
Standing up for themselves and others; speaking up for themselves and others; learning to know what the truth is that they can stand for; learning to know who their own Self is that they can be true to. These were qualities that in 1919, in a Germany dealing with the social earthquake of World War 1, Rudolf Steiner and the first Waldorf teachers aspired to for their students. It seems those qualities are essential everywhere a hundred years later.