Imagine a society in which children, though of course constantly exposed from infancy on to the speech of people in the world around them and on the telescreens perpetually murmuring away in the background, had little to no experience in actually speaking on their own until their first year of public education. Sometime during the first week of class, shiny, colorful textbooks would be distributed from which the pupils would begin learning the written letters of their language one at a time, along with the phonemes which they represent. Gradually, one at a time, these sounds would be presented and practiced through a continual stream of ingenious exercises: “Ah, ah…er, er…ah, er, ir, or, arr…” Perhaps by late in the second year actual words would be introduced; by age 12 or so, the average student would have become a more or less proficient (if halting) speaker, able to recall with glittering perfection any of the sentences or paragraphs he or she had learned through careful study and practice of the prescribed texts by acknowledged masters. Roughly by the age at which they might be applying for their driver’s licenses, a few exceptional students might even have developed the ability to create phrases of their own extemporaneously in accordance with certain predetermined patterns of intention and meaning—a practice generally ignored or even discouraged in the mainstream, but celebrated in a parallel and derivative tradition of speech known as snazz. Snazz, naturally, would be largely divorced from ‘classical’ language, taught in separate facilities according to a separate, often less formal curriculum.
Having more or less grasped the mechanical basics of written and spoken language by graduation from secondary school, those groping minds which could not so easily be discouraged by parents and counselors from pursuing a career involving language in some way could look forward to cramming a comprehensive study of the entire history, content, and analysis of the literature, as well as any discussion and guided practice of formal written speechcraft, into a rigorously standardized four-year course of collegiate study.
Such a dystopia may seem patently ridiculous, but consider this: though the comparison is necessarily somewhat limited, it is really very similar in many ways to the rather rectilinear and narrowly frustrated modern paradigm of music education.