The alarm was sounded some time ago: our young people no longer know how to write. From grammatical errors to expressive difficulties, from lack of ideas to difficulty translating thoughts. But it is true that giving comprehensive answers to the problems related to the lack of writing skills has become difficult at the same time, given the many causes cited. In the meantime, it is true that today’s young people have the possibility of communicating with other languages (non-verbal, multimedia, artistic, musical, theatrical, etc.) but rather than demonizing entire generations of young and very young people, it would perhaps be appropriate to realize that contemporary society is one of new technologies and new languages, with which the school is inevitably called to deal with.
We talked about it with Giuseppe Lupo, full professor of contemporary Italian literature at the Catholic University of Milan to try to reduce a mass of intergenerational problems into unity.
Professor, writing has become a bogeyman for our young people…
«The difficulties that today’s kids show in approaching the classic Italian language derive from a very limited cultural baggage. The warehouse of tools in their possession has indeed shrunk in a worrying way, to the point of appearing scarce, terminologically essential to everyday life and communication, without that complexity of language typical of people who attend school understood as a small social segment».
Let’s start with the language, apparently.
“It’s inevitable, I’d say. Everyday language has reduced to the point that the majority of our children can count on a so-called “linguistic diet” that is extremely poor both in terms of words – that is, of vocabulary – and in terms of content. It is like a diet always centered on the same foods: in the same way, linguistic poverty does not allow young people to express themselves with a rich and adequate terminology in our times, which, instead, present a variety of global linguistic-cultural emergencies» .
We could also use the famous metaphor of the toolbox…
“Exactly. In a box that already contains a few work tools, always the same ones linked to the fathers’ society, the communication tools have not developed as we would have expected. The terminology, that is, has not expanded as it always happens between generational fault lines: from grandparents to fathers and from these to their children. Yet society has grown enormously in the last century.’
Professor, excuse us, has anything changed today?
«Absolutely, because social progress has also been matched by a new era of words, concepts and expressions. Unfortunately, the development of language has not gone hand in hand, if even today we note – for example in the university assessment – that the linguistic diet does not seem to be in step with the times”.
You have already arrived at the effects, leaving out the causes.
“Absolutely not. A poor linguistic warehouse is due to the lack of enrichment that occurs through reading: our kids read little, this is the trigger. Reading has always been the best fuel for terminological enrichment, capable of making developing children make a qualitative leap on the path of cultural updating. If you don’t read, you don’t have the opportunity to enrich your vocabulary, with the consequence that that “tape” can only count on the usual “old tools” of the trade”.
Yet our communication society offers stimuli that were unthinkable until a few years ago!
«It is the paradox of our times: to have the entire human knowledge available at the disposal of click perhaps it does not stimulate the boys to its knowledge. When the human knowledge of our families was concentrated in heavy and dusty encyclopedias, we kids of the seventies, for example, were forced to spend the afternoons opening them, consulting them, copying them, putting our own visual abilities to the test. Today, with smartphones in the palm of our hands, we consult search engines for scholastic purposes only for the time strictly necessary to check the date of a historical event, the result of an equation, the biography of an author».
Yet we live in symbiosis with mobile phones…
«Sure, because we surf on Facebook, TikTok, Instagram. Or because we only use Wikipedia to check the accuracy of the data summarily acquired in class. The phase of deepening, of critical analysis, of confrontation with others is missing. However powerful, a search engine can never replace the dialogue with the teacher or the confrontation with the class colleague. And then you want to put the immediate joy you feel in “posting” a photo on Instagram with respect to the analysis of Leopardi’s poetics?».
She looks like a social media adversary!
“Absolutely not. I too am immersed in the great mediasphere and I realize the absolute technical quality of tools that push us to no longer be able to do without them. But I am aware of the simplicity of the language that young people use today: it is mainstream”, that is conventional, common and dominant, thus being followed by practically everyone with the same rules, the same terms, in the same fields. In short, a repetitive, monotonous, self-referential language».
Meanwhile, she speaks from a privileged observatory…
«Privileged for the sense of our journalistic conversation, I would say. Because it allows me to be able to analyze the great amount of problems that arise when the student crosses the threshold of our universities. It would be all too easy to blame the problem under analysis by placing it on middle or high school teachers, but we cannot fail to notice how the previous grades of school education devote less and less time to reading as a source of enrichment of the linguistic baggage I mentioned».
Were you able to understand why reading is relegated to the rear of school education?
«I’ve understood this over the years: the educational programs that young people are required to face, for example in what was the three-year period of classical high school, are extremely extensive and complex, such as to create obvious problems of completeness. Who among us remembers having come to study and read the authors more contemporary to us?».
The atavistic problem of studying the twentieth century, especially in its second half…
«The study of the last fifty years of the century continues to be neglected. We continue to dwell on Dante Alighieri and Alessandro Manzoni and almost ignore the authors ranging from Eugenio Montale to Antonio Pennacchi. Not to mention those of the year 2000».
University professor and writer…
«I certainly regain confidence thanks to the narrative that sees me as an active protagonist. The public who attend the presentations of my books is obviously interested in what I write: since I published it Celenne’s Americanin 2001 at the last Clan tobacco, a few months ago, I also saw the number of young people who intervene grow. But it is an unreliable test for the reasoning we are following, because we ourselves are the authors who, in the end, build the public to our liking. Readers participate because they meet their favorites, not because they are forced by a study program…».
Giuseppe Lupo, Lucan from Atella (Pz), born in 1963, is full professor of contemporary Italian literature at the Catholic University of Milan. Among his novels, all published by Marsilio, we mention: Brief history of my silence (2019, 2021; shortlisted in the Strega Prize dozen), The years of our enchantment (2017, 2019; Viareggio Prize), Palmyra’s last bride (2011, 2018; Campiello Selection Award, Vittorini Award). He also published Celenne’s American (2000, 2018; Mondello Award, Berto Award), The Zanardelli caravan (2008, 2022; Grinzane-Carical Award), Cloud travellers (2013, 2020; Dessì Award), The tree of rooms (2015; Alassio Award, Frontino Montefeltro Award), Tobacco Clan (2022). and, for Aboca, The Simplon poplar (2021).He edited, again for Marsilio, Modern Anti-Modern by Cesare De Michelis (2021). He is the author of several essays on the culture of the twentieth century and collaborator of The sun 24 hours.
«The age of the school curriculum reduces the writing ability of the young»