Friday, February 19, 2010

Good, Bad & Ugly Metaphors

There are a mountain of metaphors out their for education - some are good, some are bad and some are ugly.

The good metaphors for education are those that label learning as being organic and natural. Making a seed or plant metaphorical of learning is good.

The bad metaphors for education are those that label learning as being man-made. Making sports metaphorical of learning is bad.

And the ugly metaphors are those that imply that learning is both conditional and unnatural. Making business or work metaphorical of learning is ugly.

School is like work. Students need to be like a good employee - good students get paid with good grades while bad students risk being fired. These are all ugly metaphors.

School is like sports. Three strikes and you are out, everyday class is a tryout and you better perform or risk getting cut, and you must compete with others if you want to win the game of life - these are all bad metaphors.

School is like a seed. You plant it and nurture it. Provide it with a healthy environment with the conditions necessary for healthy growth and development. You mindfully observe growth while knowing when to measure and when to trust it. You know that growth requires a certain amount of faith and intuitive thinking - you can't dig up the seed too often for precise measurment without killing it. This is a good metaphor.

Not all metaphors were born equal. Some are better than others, and we must be careful which metaphors we subscribe too.


  1. Worst metaphor - school is like American Idol. Assessment is judgment. It's the job of students to compete with one another for our attention. Compliments are meant only to propel someone for a better job.

  2. Nice addition, John. I too have thought of how school ends up thinking assessment should play the role of Simon Cowell. Yuck.

  3. I use the sports metaphor in a different way. I talk about how building muscle mass takes time, and you wouldn't 'cram' for the big game. Learning math builds new neural connections, and it doesn't work to cram for a math test.


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