Please visit
for new posts


Monday, May 13, 2013

Pick a Metaphor: Change the World

In a classic book entitled, Metaphors We Live By, by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson,the authors state that metaphor is the fundamental mechanism of our mind, that allows us to use what we know about our physical and social experiences to provide an understanding of countless other subjects and other experiences. The authors claim that metaphors shape our perceptions and actions without us noticing them.  Another important concept in social psychology, the fundamental attribution error, the inclination to attribute a problem to a person rather than the situation for circumstance, creates two major metaphors for how we approach all of our social problems. When we make the fundamental error  people  are viewed as finished products and if we avoid making this error  people are viewed as works in progress.  This is a vital and essential distinction that all educators must reflect upon and then ourthemselves: which metaphor shapes my view of world.  Our traditional educational practices follow the finished product metaphor. 

Think about it.  A finished product is done and is designed to be judged against other finished products.  When an artist or craftsperson determines that the product is complete, it is ready to go into the world and then critics or consumers judge it, rate it and place on value on it.  The great works last; the not so great fall by the wayside.  If a finished product has a flaw or defect it may not even make to the public-it is thrown out.  When we look at finished products we don't see all of the drafts, prototypes, the start-overs, the mistakes along the way that lead to the finished products.  It is like the consummate professional or artist who is ready to perform in front of the public and be judged.   A pianist, a great athletic determines when he/she is ready to step out into the world and make themselves vulnerable to criticism and judgment.  Here again we don't see the 10000 hours rule (Gladwell talks about in the book, Outliers)-we don't hear the missed notes, the missed foul shots the mistake after mistake that happens along the way preparing the skills demonstrated in a performance.

In the past few years I spent writing,  I have discovered the endless process of rewriting is really what writing is all about.  I cannot write a polished piece right off the bat-no one can or should.  Thankfully there are no penalties or punishments for mistakes.  Mistake is not even a good word for what the process really is.  Mistake are still considered wrong or has a shouldn't attached to it.  In writing, there are no mistakes just attempts and refinements.  Once the connotations of mistakes are removed from the equation, the whole process is challenging yet is it an enjoyable and engaging challenge. 

The works in progress metaphor goes hand in hand with creativity-something new and different emerges from the process of improving what you started with.  The creative process is hard and demanding but it is one that people who experience it keep going back for because there is something there that provides meaning and fulfillment.

Teaching and learning should always be about works in progress and not finished products.  Human beings are works in progress and never finished products.  The great thing I liked about teaching was how much I learned from doing it and then getting the chance to go back the next day and try again.  Nothing felt better than when I took a mistake (not the best word to use ) and then figured out how it missed the mark, made some adjustments and then got a little closer to hitting the mark I set out to hit.  This is almost blasphemous to admit in our culture of accountability and data but teaching was actually a lot of fun and I always felt that the more fun I had and the more creative I was the better the teaching was.  Now with APPR and data, teaching seems a lot more like a root canal process-a painful experience designed to make someone better who had a problem in their mouth.  You have to do it the right way and fix the problem.

Since this piece is filled with metaphors here is another: teaching and learning in schools are a lot more like recitals than they are karaoke.  Sadly, if music only existed in the form of recitals with everyone sitting in the audience hoping and praying for a minimum number or zero mistakes, music might likely die a slow death at least for the people who had to perform.  Compare a recital to karaoke:  karaoke at least gives people a chance to experience performing in a warm and friendly environment, mistakes are part of the fun, it is easy to do with another and it makes everyone feel good.  Schools should at least allow some time for karaoke experiences-this may help people discover that learning is not a lifeless task that  exists for performance and judgment.  Sometimes I think that schools are giving a bad name to learning and I hope that it doesn't cause it to die a slow death.  Dare I say it-learning can be fun-but it depends upon your metaphor, I guess.

No comments: