Two Metaphors to Reflect Upon Our Teaching – Nadine Le Gros

I love metaphors. I love metaphors both as a former literature major and as an occasional drama queen, as their use allows me to be expressive and interpretive. I also love metaphors for what they give us license to explore. Lakoff & Johnson (1980) maintain that metaphors aren’t just accidental turns of phrases: metaphors reflect our realities. The issue that I’m interested in exploring in terms of teaching via the use of metaphor is our use of power in the class – not just in terms of maintaining it in vis-à-vis our students, but also in terms of how we control the content of what we teach and what we hope the outcomes of our teaching will be.

Baptist (2002) writes of the garden as a metaphor in teaching, and hers is truly an invitation to participate in the divine. She suggests six views of metaphor which include faith, power, cultural expression, personal expression, and healing, and when she writes of metaphor, she seeks not to address the daily grind issues of teaching, but to examine the need for psychic, emotional, and intellectual healing on the planet today. Baptist invites us to explore the creative power of metaphor to expand our thoughts. She chooses the gardens as metaphor as “the garden is primarily a social construct that reflects the intent of the maker and the prevailing cultural ideologies of the time” (Baptist 2000, p.20).

If we use the metaphor of the garden to think about our teaching, we can be reflective about our approaches in a non-threatening way. For example, we may have difficulty with the ‘weeds’ in a class, and we may respond in a way that is looking to contain their encroachment on the class. Our personal definition of weeds will vary from the use of computers to dominant students, etc. Our wish to protect our ‘garden’ may cause us to be overly attached to and controlling of the dynamics in the class. If, however, when we think of a monoculture garden in which somebody has sprayed insecticides and herbicides, we might consider how our philosophy would manifest itself. While some may look at such a garden and consider it to be beautiful, many would be repelled by it. If we then draw a parallel between our intention as educators and the intention of the gardener, how we must adjust our attitude becomes evident. We need to allow for the weeds. We can extend this philosophy further by considering how Morning Glory is planted by gardeners in Ontario for its beauty, and shunned by gardeners in Vancouver because of its tendency to overtake the whole garden.

We can also use metaphor to examine our relationship with what we teach. For example, ceramics is one of the oldest crafts, and for some, it remains a craft. Others have elevated the craft to a highly sophisticated artform. When a ceramist makes a piece of pottery, she must decide whether to use a wheel or to throw the piece by hand. She chooses clay which can vary widely due to geographic factors. Sometimes she begins with the intention of making a bowl, but the clay assumes the shape of a plate. The ceramist must decide whether to stick determinedly to her concept of a bowl, or to allow the clay to evolve organically … to do what it will. The ceramist must wait for her work to dry before proceeding to the next step, because she can’t rush the process. She then chooses a glaze, a process over which the ceramist has a measure of control: if she consistently sticks to a single recipe and knows which amounts of silica or dolomite produce the effect she likes, she can frequently determine outcomes. However, experimentation with glazes will yield unexpected results – sometimes beautiful and sometimes hideous. The ceramist will only see the results of the glaze after the piece has been fired, and the kiln may well fire the piece in an unpredictable way. The outcome may be exquisite – or the ceramist may retrieve a week’s worth of work that is under or over-fired … and destroyed. When pieces are ‘successfully’ thrown and fired, they may be given away or sold, and how the pieces are perceived is again unforeseeable. Recipients of gifts may like or dislike the art, and customers may or may not purchase the objects. The pieces may be used in the way they were intended – as a coffee cup or a flower vase – or they may be put to an entirely different use by the new owner.

Each of these metaphors – that of the garden and that of ceramics – allows us to consider teaching and our role in the education process. Baptist reminds us: “[i]f the gardener attempts to completely control the ‘event’ of the garden, … possibilities may never emerge, rather they become lost in intent” (Baptist 2002, P.25). It’s all too easy in education to become mired in what we perceive to be mud. We forget about the transcendent nature of the vocation. If we relinquish the need for control, we can entertain possibility. When we create something – ceramics or lessons – we may proceed with the mindset of a craft, or we may proceed with artistry. We can’t completely predict what action will precipitate what effect, but being able to relinquish absolute control to allow for what might be is expansive. So, what’s your metaphor?

Baptist, K. (2002). The garden as a metaphor for curriculum. Teacher Education
Quarterly, 29(4), 19-37.

Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press.

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3 thoughts on “Two Metaphors to Reflect Upon Our Teaching – Nadine Le Gros

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