Monday, February 21, 2022

Creating Metaphors: Interpreting The World Through The Prism Of Ourselves

When I consider a cherry tree, I think of its branch-arms reaching to embrace the sun's light, its protective armor of bark, its roots flowing inevitably through the earth relentlessly following the water, and about its practice of adorning itself in costumes for each season: flowers, leaves that transform from green to bronze, yellow, and red, and finally, bravely, striping naked for the beggarly months of winter.

It's possible that the tree itself has a thought of some sort about its own story, but I think it's more likely that it lives in the ever-emerging present, standing there, a tree, not a collection of metaphors, not reaching, not embracing, without arms or armor or costumes. Perhaps it has a message it wants to convey to me, perhaps it wants to fall into dialog, but I think it more likely that the cherry tree in all its metaphorical glory has no message at all. That cherry tree is happily a cherry tree. The rest is my own interpretation which happens through the process of creating metaphors. 

We have no way of knowing whether or not other species possess the capacity for metaphor, but again, I think it's likely that it's a uniquely human trait, one that stands at the center of what we mean by human consciousness. New knowledge is built upon metaphor. Understanding is arrived at through a process of applying what we already think we know about the world as metaphors to explain new things and ideas.

When I use the metaphor of arms to describe the branches of a cherry tree, I am connecting the tree not just to myself, but to the sunlight I perceive it as embracing, a thing that we share as the giver of life (another metaphor). I understand the tree through my interpretations, which is to say that all understanding, all knowledge, all wisdom is seen through the prism of myself. They say that every persona in our dreams is really a reflection of ourselves: this is also true of everything we perceive while we're awake.

School and education as we typically consider it, involves adults providing pre-approved metaphors to the children. Some don't get it, others do, while many just nod along, memorizing the teacher's metaphors in order to later prove they know the "correct" answer. Deep, real learning, however, requires that learners create metaphors for themselves. That is the thinking part. That is the learning. By hubristically providing our own metaphors to children, we rob them of the thinking, which means what we offer them is only a pale specter of actual learning.

It's the difference between a playground of loose parts and one of scripted toys.

It's the difference between experiencing a painted masterpiece and reading the plaque about it.

It's the difference between freely building with Legos and following the step-by-step instructions that came with with the kit.

It's the difference between considering a cherry tree and being lectured about it.

Learning, thinking, is largely a matter of creating and re-creating metaphors, one atop the other, layering them, interpreting the world through the prism of ourselves. 


"I recommend this book to everyone concerned with children and the future of humanity." ~Peter Gray, Ph.D. If you want to see what Dr. Gray is talking about you can find Teacher Tom's First Book and Teacher Tom's Second Book right here

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