As a young boy I lived in Zagreb, Croatia, in a part of the town with big apartment buildings. In between two buildings there was a park in which we, children, were playing freely and securely. That was our magic realm in which we were becoming Indians and cowboys, space travelers, thieves and policemen, different heroes that were conquering the world. In the park we had lot of trees that we were climbing, bushes where we were setting up traps or hiding waiting for the “enemy” to pass by… We didn’t have television. There was only one family with television and all the children from the street were happy if they were invited to the home of that family to watch Disney’s cartoons (in black and white technics… color television was invented later). We didn’t have a telephone at home either. It was too expensive, and we couldn’t afford it, as well as we couldn’t afford a car. In my street there were only two.
But we had a Storyteller!
Every Sunday at 10:00, an old man was coming to the park where we were playing. He just sat on the bench holding his stick saying nothing. We, children, knew who he was. We ran to him, we sat on the grass around the bench staring at him in silence and waited. After a while he looked at us and started talking with an intense voice filled with emotion: “Once upon a time…”. The images, music, beauty and magic of the words were all around us and we were sinking deeper and deeper into the story, into our own imagination. The space and time were disappearing, and only voice was floating around us like a spirit above primordial waters. When he finished the story, he looked at us, got up and went to another park to tell stories to another children. Every Sunday he was telling us a new story, a new fairy tale. One Sunday he didn’t come…
Today I live in Xi’an, also in a community with big apartment buildings and with a beautiful park that spreads all around the neighborhood. There is also a beautiful small creek running through the park. There are trees to climb, bushes to hide, but there are no children behind the bushes nor in the treetops. Sometimes I can see small children playing in designated areas with their mothers or grandmothers and very rarely with the fathers. They don’t play with other children. Sometimes I think “They are so lonely!” They have no peers to play with, no older boys to learn from… and they have no an old man with a stick who tells stories every Sunday at 10:00.
But they have mobile phones and computers.
Modern times, predominantly visual, replaced storytelling with “story-showing” bringing visual presentations and illustrations instead of spoken word. Stories are shown in picture books, on different electronic media, cartoons etc., and they are not told any more. There are no more storytellers! The power of spoken word is lost, so is the power and significance of storytelling. Children’s uncontrolled and excessive exposure to electronic media is destroying their imagination (and much more) and is leading children towards alienation and ultimately to dementia.
(Manfred Spitzer, Digitale Demenz)
The course of history cannot be changed, and technological development cannot be stopped, but the educators (parents and teachers) should be aware of the danger of electronic media.
Artists that are producing theatre programs for children should be aware of this situation too. Only if the artists give a new life to pure and genuine storytelling, only if we educate new generation of storytellers and bring back the dignity of storytelling in children’s lives, only then we can have chances to bring our children back to the trace of humanity and save them from the jaws of digital world that are slowly, but fatally, consuming them.
It is not too late to save the lives of our children!
We should all work together to bring storytelling back to education of children in order to help them develop their full and independent personality, imagination and understanding of deeper meaning of life, of self and the world. Educators should understand that storytelling, along with drama, is the only tool to develop children literacy, vocabulary, focus, listening and expression skills (and much more). There is no computer program who can do it instead. Therefore, we need to do our best to restore storytelling and put storytellers in the special social position that they have had throughout the history — the position of initiators, teachers and guides through the dark, unconscious part of our psyche.
I myself, old enough to replace the old man from my childhood, will take his stick —Prospero’s Stuff (Shakespeare The Tempest)— and will go wherever children are to bring them stories and enlighten their souls like the old man in my childhood have enlightened me. I will knock on your door too with a hope that you will let me in.
I invite you to join me on my journey!