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In the midst of the culture wars that swirl around schools; it is easy to lose sight of the broader purpose and grand vision of public education. Without a doubt, there is much that is wrong with our schools, but metaphors we use for education can limit our perspective. Take a closer within the classroom and your perspective can change.

Source:Movements of Mind: The Matrix, Metaphors, and Re-imagining Education

Movements of Mind: The Matrix, Metaphors, and Re-imagining Education

This article revisits arguments made by educators, philosophers, linguists, and anthropologists that metaphors govern our ways of perceiving, naming, and acting in the world, whether we are aware of this phenomenon or not. The article invites readers to make conscious the metaphors that inform our thoughts and actions, discern the "realities" we construct for ourselves and for others, and imagine the possibility of changing those. The argument made is for seeking, crafting, and embracing metaphors that cast students not only as active participants in their own education but as the principle creators of their education and themselves.

Below are portions of the article as well as an appendix of educational metaphors.


Education is production. This overarching metaphor generates a whole set of associated metaphors that name the structures of and participants in education: Schools are factories, teachers are factory workers or managers, students are products. The lexicon of this metaphorical system foregrounds things mechanical, efficient, repetitive, standard, and passive and all but eliminates things imaginative, creative, various, divergent, and active. When the dominant notion of education is the manufacturing of students, there is no possibility of students' self-creation. Rather, students are commodities produced by others, prepared to enter and compete for purchase in what Sfard (1998) describes as an increasingly materialistic world.

Embodying a much earlier version of a "cult of efficiency" (Callahan, 1962) that was born of the industrial revolution in the United States, the conceptual framework that the metaphor of education as production provides includes reference to the roles, lexicon, and the actions and interactions of the 19th century business of production-the manager, the factory worker, "the sorting machine" (Spring, 1976). Critics coined the metaphor, a school is a factory (see Bullough, 1988; Schlechty, 1991), to illuminate how, during the early 19th century, urban schools in particular "came to be viewed as institutions to be managed and a set of educational experiences to be organized" (Schlechty, 1991, p. 21). Within these institutions, "school leaders, like the industrial leaders they looked to as models and guides, sought the Holy Grail of scientific management" (Schlechty, p. 21). By the 1850s public discussion about educational policy illustrated the "complete acceptance of the industrial model by educators" (Schlechty, p. 21). The graded school that was conceptualized at that time "was to be one of the chief tools used in the process of manufacturing good Americans" (Schultz, 1973, p. 131).

Within this manufacturing process, curriculum is "an assembly line down which students go" (Schlechty, 1991, p. 42) and students are "products to be molded, tested against common standards, and inspected carefully before being passed on to the next workbench for further processing" (Schlechty, p. 21). Such a concept of school led to "reductionistic, 'parts-catalog' approaches to teaching and learning" (Zehm, 1999, p. 43). This "bureaucratic model" (Kliebard cited in Pinar, 1978) is characterized by, among other things, its "allegiance to behaviourism and what Macdonald has termed a 'technological rationality"' (Pinar, 1978, p. 205). Obsessed with efficiency and scientific management, both educators and the general public not only embraced but also idealized production as the model for education. The metaphor "pervaded the larger culture" (Perrone, 2000, p. 30) and continues to do so, as evidenced by the increasingly frequent imposition on students of standardized tests (Kohn, 2000). Within the conceptual framework of education as production, teachers can be cast as workers, as machines themselves, or as managers. When a teacher is a factory worker, she is "not very skilled, not very insightful, and, within the context of 'real' professions such as law and medicine, not very bright" (Schlechty, 1991, p. 23).

Furthermore, the control structures of the school are the control structures of the factory: tight supervision and product inspection. Curriculum design and the quest for teacher-proof materials dominate the thinking of many center office functionaries, but the curriculum guides must be made simple for teachers as well as students. Above all, the curriculum must be articulated with the tests that will be used to inspect the students who are the products of the controlled and rational process. (Schlechty, p. 23)

An underlying premise here is that there is limited use for teachers to fashion the curriculum; like workers in a factory, they are best off following directions. Classic examples of control structures for teachers aimed at efficient production are packaged curricula, readers, and textbooks organized into tightly sequenced units and accompanied by teachers' guides-forms of highly structured, step-by-step instructions that actively discourage creativity, critical thinking, or any kind of deviation from the standard set forth in the manuals.

Within this construct of education as production teachers can also be cast as mechanical themselves. One teacher describes himself as "a well-ordered machine," explaining, "My job seems to be like an engine that is well taken care of. Everything works the way it is supposed to work. There is a set rhythm and reason to why things work in the way they do" (Efron & Joseph, 2001, p. 78). This machine works within "a time frame in which you have a set of goals and objectives that need to be accomplished. You take a student from this point to that point" (Efron & Joseph, p. 78). As Efron and Joseph suggest, this teacher is "a technician" who keeps the "factory-the educational machine-operating"' (p. 78).

Finally, when the teacher is the mastermind that oversees the work of production, the teacher is an executive. Here the teacher is the manager of a system, located not "inside" the process of teaching and learning but rather "outside," a position from which he or she "regulates the content and the activities on the learner" (Fenstermacher & Soltis, 1992, p. 16). This model casts teachers as "highly skilled technocrats: professionals in the sense that engineers, accountants, and architects are professionals" (Schlechty, 1991, p. 23). Within the conceptual framework of this metaphor, the teacher appears to be "the manager of a kind of production line, where students enter the factory as raw material and are somehow 'assembled' as persons" (Fenstermacher & Soltis, 1992, p. 16).

The root metaphor of education as production and the multiple branches that spring from it-school as factory; curriculum as assembly line; teacher as factory worker, machine, or executive; and students as products-create a version of reality that is scarcely more humane than the construct of the Matrix. Rice (1893) sharply critiqued the factory model of schools at the time of its emergence: "The school has been converted into the most dehumanizing institution that I have ever laid eyes upon, each child being treated as if he possessed a memory and the faculty of speech, but no individuality, no sensibilities, no soul" (p. 31). Although the root metaphor of education as production includes three different metaphors for teachers, each of which accords teachers a different degree and kind of authority, all three cast students in basically the same role: they are marched through drills and hurried through worksheets that test them on discrete, disconnected, and deadly boring bits of information; they are taken "'from this point to that point"' (Efron & Joseph, 2001, p. 78); they are "'assembled' as persons" (Fenstermacher & Soltis, 1992, p. 16). Within this metaphorical framework and the practices it engenders there is no place or incentive to "attend to whether or not learning is meaningful or satisfying for the students" (Greene in Efron & Joseph, 2001 p. 79). And as Dewey (1938) queries, "What avail is it to win prescribed amounts of information... if in the process the individual loses his own soul?" (p. 49).

The experience of students, even at privileged and ostensibly "good" schools, is indeed one of being shuffled along a conveyor belt. One student describes his life as follows:

6 o'clock in the morning my alarm goes off and I go to school all day long, and then I go to work for five hours, I don't get home until eight o'clock, and then I do four hours of homework, and then I wanna just sit back and just do nothing, and I can't, I gotta hurry up and fall asleep but I'm so wired from the day that I can't fall asleep and before I know it, the alarm, and I gotta do it all again, and the next day. 2002)

Pope (2001) suggests that "we are creating a generation of stressed out, materialistic, and miseducated students," and this student's description of his life offers some evidence for the truth of this assertion. If students are trained to enact highly scripted, grueling, preset motions that are going to lead them to prescribed ends, they are little more than the automatons in The Matrix.

By making arguments for the betterment of the economic state of the country and the maintenance of the United States as the primary world power, proponents of education as production actually effect a worsening of the human state. Students enact the production metaphor themselves: studying to compete and complete rather than explore and examine, and wearing themselves out in the process. Any innovative thinking or behavior, although it might invigorate students, would hinder production. Thus, such a metaphor, under the pretext of advocating advancement, argues for and effects ways of keeping the social structure the same. As within the Matrix, education as production carried to its extreme sacrifices the human spirit and soul for the efficiency of scientific management and mass production.


The root metaphor of education as production eclipsed the human with the mechanical; the root metaphor of education as cure reasserts the human. But just as production in the educational realm was seen as inefficient, this second root metaphor is premised on another perceived problem that needs remedy. The characters and themes of The Matrix once again serve to illuminate these issues in education. Discussing at one point the construction of the Matrix, one of its gatekeepers, Agent Smith, explains how an earlier iteration of the Matrix construct failed because the programmers had created "a perfect human world, where none suffered" (Silver & the Wachowski Brothers, 1999). Agent Smith suggests that the reason the first Matrix failed was because human beings define their reality through misery and suffering; therefore, they rejected a "reality" in which everyone was healthy and happy. He goes further to suggest that people are the cause of their own and others' suffering-"human beings are a disease"-and in the face of this illness, the artificial intelligence that has created the Matrix is "the cure" (Silver & the Wachowski Brothers, 1999).

The centrality of sickness, as a constituent and also an obsession, is clearlymanifest in this second root metaphor for education in the United States. Schlechty (1991) suggests that the notion of the school as a hospital was an outgrowth of "the perception that the legitimate purpose of schools is to redress the pain and suffering imposed on children by the urban industrial society" (p. 25). But the reaction against industrialization was not the first manifestation of the root metaphor of education as cure. The original ill that schools were established to remedy was one that colonists brought with them to the "new world" and is strikingly close to Agent Smith's assessment of human beings as a species: children's innately sinful and evil nature. In colonial America children were thought to be "'born into sin and creatures of Hell, Death, and Wrath and therefore corrupt natures" (Mather in Allison, 1995, p. 9). Characterized as "'depraved, unregenerate, and damned,"' children "had to be broken so they could be taught 'humility and tractableness"' (Robinson in Allison, 1995, p. 9). Among the first laws passed in the United States requiring the establishment of schools was the Old Deluder Satan Act passed in 1647 in Massachusetts (Allison, 1995; Spring, 1994). The purpose of the law was to ensure that young people learned how to read the Bible and thereby be "treated" for their innate ills and immunized against future depravity.

Words such as "illness" and "remedy" need not appear in this discourse for the root metaphor, or what Schon (1979) calls the generative metaphor, to underlie the story. Throughout United States history the root metaphor of education as cure has taken different forms: some nineteenth century supporters of education argued that crime could be eliminated in a society only through the proper education of children ... In the twentieth century this impulse continued and expanded as schools adopted programs designed to end drug abuse and alcoholism, reduce traffic accidents, and improve community health. (Spring, 1978, p. 3)

If education is a cure, the job of educational institutions, personnel, and processes is to assess perceived illnesses or deficiencies and implement a regimen to remedy them. Within this metaphorical framework, the curriculum becomes a prescription, with the ideal prescription being highly individualized-administered to each student depending on his or her needs and deficiencies (Schlechty, 1991) and capitalizing on his or her strengths. These deficiencies and needs are assessed and treated through diagnostic testing, the use of scientific instruments, and "intervention strategies (treatments) based on research and derived from clinical trials" (Schlechty, p. 26). This metaphor privileges faith in rigorous medical practice, and it assumes and asserts that such practice is the answer to persisting problems in the United States.

Within the realm and lexicon of the metaphor of education as cure, two metaphors drawn from clinical practice cast the teacher as clinician. One is the idea that a teacher is a diagnostician. "[A] diagnostic teacher is one who casts oneself as an observer, scrutinizer, and assessor, as well as an engaged leader" (Solomon, 1999, p. xvi). Diagnostic teachers "seek to know students' current understandings and misconceptions." They aim also to "deepen their own subject-area knowledge and make judgments about what concepts are worth teaching." Furthermore, they "assess their own beliefs and practices, selecting, designing, and redesigning appropriate pedagogical strategies and curriculum materials that make sense given students' understandings and the concepts and skills they want to promote" (Solomon, p. xvi-xvii)-like a doctor assessing the needs of a sick patient. A diagnostic teacher assumes "a stance of critical scrutiny" (Solomon & Morocco, 1999, p. 231).

A second metaphor for teacher has its roots in progressive models of education and in the advent of various forms of psychoanalysis-where these work to humanize education: A teacher is a therapist. A teacher is "an empathetic person charged with helping individuals grow personally and reach a high level of self-actualization, understanding, and acceptance" (Fenstermacher & Soltis, 1992, p. 4). According to this model, the teacher does not impart knowledge and skill to students; rather, he or she helps students gain their own knowledge and skill (Fenstermacher & Soltis, p. 33).

Teachers in the role of therapist are certainly situated in greater proximity to students and the learning process than those who are guided by industrial metaphors, but the persisting underlying assumption of illness needing remedy is troubling. The premise of illness keeps students passive and ailing (or potentially ailing) with the only remedy being the active intervention of educators. Furthermore, this metaphor can prompt some teachers to feel a conflict regarding their responsibilities. Many teachers see themselves as "providing emotional support for their students" (Fischer & Kiefer, 2001, p. 108). But some feel that "balancing their major role of educating with that of therapist or counselor" is a challenge (Fischer & Kiefer, p. 108).

The root metaphor of education as cure and the multiple branches that spring from it-the school as hospital, curriculum as prescription, the teacher as diagnostician or therapist, and the student as sick patient-create a version of reality that, although ostensibly more humane, casts students as ill and in need of remedy. The positive face of this metaphor is that education can be understood as care: caring for students and caring that they become healthy-or using their strengths to help overcome weaknesses. But the assumption that they are unhealthy and the schools' prescribed courses or remedies constitute the only possible cure is problematic. Theoretically, the metaphors of school as hospital and education as cure elevate the student from the role of "product," which students occupy within the education as production metaphor, but it keeps the student in a dependent role: "the role of client dependent on the expert" (Schlechty, 1991, p. 26). Students are patients who accumulate records of tests and regimens of treatments. It is these records and regimens that define students and what happens to them. Nowhere is the language of this metaphor more pervasive than in special education and remedial programs-two places in school where one is most likely to find academic "'casualties"' (Schlechty, p. 27). The "at-risk" student who needs the "remedy" of a remedial program is cast as sick or at risk of falling out of society unless ministered to by the school and its personnel.

The recent proliferation of possible diseases with which students can be diagnosed-multiple forms of attention and physical "deficits" and "disabilities"-as well as the rise in prescription of drugs (such as Ritalin) and of programs of treatment (such as Individualized Educational Plans) clearly illustrate our culture's construction of student disability (McDermott & Varenne, 1985). If students want to receive the services and interventions of the school, they must be sick, and if they want to keep receiving attention, they must get sicker and sicker. Therefore, students' restlessness of body as well as mind, for which we generate ever-new diagnoses, suggest that the cure we offer students called education is actually intensifying their supposed illness.

Although the root metaphors of education as production and cure are premised on different lexicons and engender different notions of educational practice, they have similar effects on students. Both keep students passive, as products or patients, confined within institutions that contain and control, like factories and hospitals, and managed by teachers who are technicians or managers on the one hand or diagnosticians and therapists on the other.


A school is a melting pot

The term "melting pot" first appeared in 1908 as the title and theme of a play written by Israel Zangwvill, in which a great alchemist "'melts and fuses' America's varied immigrant population 'with his purging flames"' (Carnevale & Stone, 1995, p. 14). Within this metaphorical framework, the job of the school is to "educate students from many cultures through a common language, a common history, and common goals, principles, and values" (Ehrensal, Crawford, Castellucci, & Allen, 2001, p. 65). This approach assumes a "predetermined standard of desirability" (Wong cited in Ehrensal et al., p. 65) and asserts "that the American experience molds all into modern-day clones of the (mainly) white, Protestant Anglo-Saxons who founded the Republic and established cultural hegemony here" (Carnevale & Stone, 1995, pp. 14-15).

Schools are educational wastelands

Contending that schools were promoting the degeneration of the American mind, Bestor (1953) argued for the rejuvenation of United States public schools, and lamented the vanishing sense of purpose in education. He asserted that unless those concerned with education "make substantially the same assumptions there cannot be an educational system at all, only a hodgepodge of schools." The "unity of purpose" Bestor sought was to find its manifestation in the body of knowledge taught-"what every American needs to know" to heal himself and contribute to a healthy body politic (HIirsch, Kett, & Trefil, 1987). This work paved the way for the writings of Alan Bloom, E.D. Hirsch, and others concerned about "the closing of the American mind" (Bloom, 1987)-what they suggest is the intellectual atrophy and decay of the collective U.S. brain.

Schools are shopping malls

During a phase of relative prosperity and complacency in the United States, after the turbulent, alternative, and powerful movements of the 1960s and 1970s, Powell, Fararr, & Cohen (1985) wrote: "If Americans want to understand their high schools at work, they should imagine them as shopping malls" (p. 8). They describe secondary education as a "consumption experience" (p. 8). The consumers vary greatly: some know what they want and "efficiently make their purchases"; others "come simply to browse"; and still others do neither: "they just hang out" (p. 8). Within the shopping mall high school are "specialty shops" for students with particular preferences, "product labeling" for the array of course options available, and special and "unspecial" students to select, or be selected by, those options (pp. 118, 22, 172). The shopping mall high school offers accommodations "to maximize holding power, graduation percentages, and customer satisfaction" (p. 1).


Education in banking

Freire (1990) explains this metaphor he coined: when the teacher is assumed to know all and the students nothing, education "becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor" (p. 58). The student's role within this model is limited to "receiving, filing, and storing the deposits" (p. 58). As passive recipients of others' knowledge, students are, according to Freire, denied the opportunity to "be truly human"-the ability to engage in inquiry and praxis, to create, not simply receive, knowledge, which "emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry men pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other" (p. 58).

Education is growth

Informed by thinkers such as Rosseau (1762/1965) and Herbart (1901), this metaphor argues that students should be nurtured and let to learn in their own ways at their own pace, and, if properly nurtured, will act morally according to their own free will. Dewey (1916) built on these premises, arguing that continuity of life means continual readaptation of the environment to the needs of living organisms (p. 2) and proposing childcentered education and rejecting the notion that children are blank slates or empty vessels to be filled (Dewey, 1964). Proponents of progressive education have continued to argue that we must start "where the learner is" (Bruner, 1977, p. xi) and design educational experiences, such as those in Waldorf and Montessori schools and in pockets of progressivism in all school systems, in which students can build their own knowledge (Duckworth, 1987)-in which students can grow themselves.


Learning is acquisition

This metaphor reflects the basically materialistic culture of the Western world. Nowhere is this materialism more fully embraced than in the United States, established as it was in the wide, open space of what was considered free but was in fact acquired land rich in resources. Explicating the metaphor of learning as acquisition, Sfard (1998) explains that concepts are "basic units of knowledge that can be accumulated, gradually refined, and combined to form ever richer cognitive structures" (p. 5). The lexicon of the acquisition metaphor includes words like "fact," "material," "sense," "idea," and "notion," (p. 5) and underlying these words is the impulse toward accumulation of material wealth, signaled by Sfard's use of words such as ''accumulated," "refined," and "richer." The actions according to which one makes the commodities of facts and ideas one's own include "construction," "appropriation," "transmission," "attainment," and "accumulation" (p. 5). Within this metaphor, "[I]ike material goods, knowledge has the permanent quality that makes the privileged position of its owner equally permanent" (p. 8).

Learning is participation

Comparing this to the learning as acquisition metaphor, Sfard (1998) explains: "the terms that imply the existence of some permanent entities have been replaced with the noun 'knowing,' which indicates action" (p. 6). She argues that this linguistic shift signals a profound conceptual shift: "[t]he talk about states has been replaced with attention to activities ...the permanence of having gives way to the constant flux of doing" (p. 6). The vocabulary of this conceptual framework includes words such as "situatedness," "contextuality," "cultural embeddedness," and "social mediation" (p. 6). Learning is "conceived as a process of becoming a member of a certain community. This entails, above all, the ability to communicate in the language of this community and act according to its particular norms" (p. 6). This metaphor for learning stresses "the evolving bonds between the individual and others... [it] implies that the identity of an individual, like an identity of a living organ, is a function of his or her being (or becoming) a part of a greater entity" (p. 6).


A teacher is a scholar

In a survey of the roles, images, and metaphors used to represent teachers and teaching in textbooks published in the United States before the 1940s, Joseph discusses a number of "ideal images," including this one (Joseph, 2001, p. 139). The notion of the teacher as an intellectual sharply contrasts the teacher as technician or as clinician. This "open-minded scholar" must engage in the same intellectual pursuits in which he asks his students to engage, because "[s]cholarship [can] bring delight to the teacher who [grows] intellectually along with his students" (McFee, 1918, pp. 16, 245, quoted in Joseph, 2001, p. 139) and also because "there must be a thinking teacher before there can be a thinking child" (Snyder & Alexander, 1932, quoted in Joseph, 2001, p. 139). The metaphor of the teacher as scholar positions teachers alongside other serious investigators into the nature and workings of things of the mind. It runs the risk, however, of privileging the realms of scholarship into which adults who have already been through the educational system make forays over the realms within which students still in their formal process bf education explore.

A teacher is a reflective practitioner

The phrase "the reflective practitioner" was coined by Sch6n (1983). The reflection in reflective practice is on one's self and how one enacts in practice the theories one espouses. Advocates of fostering the development of reflective practitioners (Colton & Sparks-Langer, 1993; Richert, 1990; Rudney & Guillaume, 1990; Zeichner & Liston, 1987) argue that, in the absence of reflection, "one runs the risk of relying on routinized teaching and... not developing as a teacher or as a person" (Reiman & Thies-Sprinthall, 1998, p. 262). The ongoing interplay of reflection and action, or what Freire (1990) calls praxis, although not generally built into the "structure of teaching" (Elbaz, 1987, p. 45), is essential to good pedagogical practice. As Zehm (1999) points out, reflection on the human dimensions of teaching is a useful tool for selfexploration as well as professional development also Zehm & Kottler, 1993). Furthermore, not only does becoming a reflective practitioner mean developing the disposition to reflect on practice, it means "finding the words to express those reflections to others-through collaboration, building a shared language and a shared knowledge of practice" (Yinger cited in McLean, 1999, p. 68). Thus the metaphor of teacher as reflective practitioner would appear to strive for more of a balance between calling for dwelling in the world of scholarship, like the teacher as scholar, and dwelling in the world that that teacher creates in the classroom.

A teacher is a researcher

Aiming to disrupt the one-way flow of educational knowledge from university-based researchers to curriculum and policy specialists to teachers (Houser, 1990, p. 56), the teacher research movement has aimed to bridge the worlds of theory and practice in another way. This movement argues that teachers can and should generate legitimate knowledge about educational practice (Cochran- Smith & Lytle, 1993). Teacher researchers use the sites of their own educational practice as subjects of inquiry (Berlin, 1990; Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1993; Martin, 1987) with the more far-reaching goal of developing, assessing, and revising theories that inform practice (Calkins, 1994). Teacher research positions "the classroom teacher as 'practitionerinquirer' rather than perpetuating the exclusive claim of the university professor as the 'scientisttheorist' of the educational research past" (Burnaford & Hobson, 2001, p. 235).

A teacher is a sculptor

The child "is clay, and the teacher imposes a fixed mold on this clay, shaping it to the specification of the mold" (Scheffmer, 1991, p. 47). Scheffler suggests that, "The sculptor's statue does not grow of itself out of the rock, requiring only the artist's nurture; the artist exercises real choice in its production, yet his initial block of marble is not wholly receptive to any idea he may wish to impose on it" (p. 48). This metaphor, in Scheffler's discussion, throws into relief the power and control of the teacher but does not take into consideration those aspects of teaching and learning that are not within the teacher's control. It casts the student as something inanimate-clay-yet something that can take shape. The consistency of the clay, of the student, the properties it brings to the creative process, help shape what is created.

A teacher is an artist

The artist knows what it takes "to fashion works whose form and structure are holistic and unified" (Dewey, 1934, p. 6). An artist is someone who sees the "all-overness" of their process and who knows how, through that process, to create a new image (Burnaford & Hobson, 2001, p. 232). Gage (1978) writes of teaching as a "practical art" which calls for "intuition, creativity, improvisation, and expressiveness-a process that leaves room for what is implied by rules, formulas, and algorithms" (p. 15). Art embraces both sensory and intellectual dimensions of the human mind. One teacher who sees herself as an artist states that in her classroom "the air is full of possibilities"; within such a classroom, a teacher must be comfortable with ambiguity and flexibility (Burnaford & Hobson, 2001, p. 233). Teaching, writes another teacher, "is an art full of subtle nuance" (Rachel Allender quoted inAllender, 2001, p. 125). Words such as "holistic," "all-overness," "intuition," and "possibilities" highlight the indeterminate nature of this metaphor. An artist "disturbs, upsets, enlightens, and he opens ways for better understanding" (Henri, 1923, p. 15). The technique an artist uses must be "evoked by the spirit of the things she wish[es] to express" (p. 44). To create a work of art, or to inspire others to create a work of art, teachers must both be guided by their own internal and individual visions and also "go to kindred spirits-others who have wanted [to create a particular] thing-and study their ways and means, learn from their successes and failures" (p. 55).

A teacher is a coach

Teachers as coaches share the responsibility of making sure that students achieve excellence with other members of the school community, parents, and the students themselves (Ladson- Billings, 1994, p. 23). Coaches understand, explains Ladson-Billings, that "the goal is team success" (p. 24). Although they operate "behind the scenes" and "on the sidelines," coaches are always present to "players" through their expectations (p. 25).

A teacher is a director

Allender (2001) explains, "I think of teaching as if I were directing a play-an improvised play in which there are no lines for the players to read or only a few at most.... The script is a set of notes, and at every juncture, detailed directions on how to proceed are given. What unfolds, in contrast, is undetermined and can be surprising" (p. 5). In analyzing his own teaching practice, Allender narrates instances of role-playing and rehearsing-opportunities he offers his students to explore their roles, critique their own and others' performances, and co-construct the ultimate production of the course.

A teacher is a conductor

"We can visualize an orchestra conductor who approaches the orchestra stand; all members of the orchestra have their eyes fixed on the conductor" (Ladson-Billings, 1994, p. 23). The members of the orchestra are the students. Teachers as conductors take responsibility for assuring that the students achieve excellence; they lead their students toward it. But as is often the case in performances of orchestras, "so powerful can the personality of the conductor be that the audience and musical critics describe the quality of the performance in terms of the conductor's performance, even though the conductor did not play a single note" (Ladson- Billings, p. 23).

A teacher is a gardener

Scheffler (1991) contends that "there is an obvious analogy between the groping child and the growing plant," specifically in the sense that "in both cases the developing organism goes through phases that are relatively independent of the efforts of gardener or teacher" (p. 46). Scheffler argues that this metaphor constructs the teacher's role as one of studying and then indirectly helping the development of the child rather than shaping him "into some preconceived form" (Scheffler, p. 47). Growth and development "may be helped or hindered by [the teacher's] efforts" (p. 47). But growth and development is the focus, and it is based on "an inner growth principle"-the notion that something simple grows into something complex "through various preordained stages" (Turner, 1974, p. 31). A prospective teacher in an education course describes how this metaphor wvorks for her. She writes an extended story within which she describes students as a "mixed bag of seeds" that the teacher "has to find a way to nurture." She "wants the best for the seeds" that she plants; to be the best teacher she can be, she learns "how to learn from the seedlings"; and "watching the stems, the leaves, and the blossoms dance in the breeze, the gardener too began to dance" (Pakola quoted in Allender, 2001, pp. 123, 117, 118, 123).

A teacher is a dentist

The teacher who crafted this metaphor to describe her work explains that "the dentist tells you what you have to do to have good teeth, but essentially, you have to do it" (Efron & Joseph, 2001, p. 75). This teacher explains that some days in her classroom "it is as hard as pulling teeth" and that sometimes students come in and "if they didn't brush their teeth last night" not only can you not get near them because they have bad breath, but "you have this faint feeling as if they failed you in some way, or you failed because you did not impress upon them the importance of doing it" (Efron & Joseph, p. 75). Perhaps because the teacher herself formulated and explained this metaphor, one can vividly see the way that it works within its own terms. As Schon (1979) suggests, new and potentially generative metaphors can be triggered when one is immersed in an experience of a particular phenomenon; at the same time that one is reflecting on the phenomenon one is experiencing it. There seems to be a measure of humor as well in this teacher's explanation, and as Efron and Joseph point out, this metaphor is one of struggle, of compassion, of failure and perseverance (p. 75). The deeply complicated sense that teacher and student can fail one another in education represents a recognition of one of the most powerful aspects of education: that education is-or should be-a reciprocal dynamic, a coconstructed endeavor.


Teaching is persuasion

Arguing for the metaphor of teaching as persuasion, Murphy (2001) dismisses the pejorative meanings of persuasion-"influencing," "convincing," "manipulating," "tempting"-to assert that "at its simplest" persuasion can be understood "as evoking a change in one's understanding or judgment relative to a particular idea or premise" (p. 224). Teaching as persuasion is premised on the notion of scaffolded instruction: "a joint venture in which students and teacher share responsibility for learning and refining strategies" (Palinscar, 1986, p. 73; see also Applebee & Langer, 1983; Woods, Bruner, & Ross, 1976). Murphy argues that persuasion "rejects the idea that there can be a simple transmission of knowledge from teacher to student, or [sic] the assumption that all students will accept whatever information is introduced into the learning environment fully or in part" (p. 224). I suggest, though, that persuasion is a fundamentally conservative metaphor of transmission and maintenance of the status quo. As Hynd (2001) writes, "Educators are concerned that students use...lknowledge to gain influential positions in society (knowledge is power) in order to contribute to citizenship, safety, and productivity" (p. 273). This is true of conservative educators, but liberal or radical educators are more interested in self actualization, challenging the status quo, and developing thinking skills, which Hynd goes on to acknowledge aren't so well suited to this metaphor. Underlying the arguments presented in this collection of articles is the implication that students don't have the capacity, or can't be trusted, to actually prove/discover/come to understand things themselves (see Cook-Sather, 2002, for a discussion of this point). Thus while it might make very good sense to think critically about bow and why teachers try to persuade students, to argue that persuasion should be the guiding metaphor for teaching seems to undermine what the authors are arguing for as a collaboration between teacher and students.

Teaching is improvisational dance

Heaton (2000) argues that teaching itself is fundamentally improvisational, and she uses the metaphor of improvisational dance to describe a mathematics classroom full of improvisation moving towards meaning. To discuss this metaphor she draws on the language of "preparation, improvisation, and contemplation" (p. 60). Describing her experience, Heaton writes: "I found myself in teaching in ways I had not experienced before. For a moment I felt what it was like to improvise, to be responsive, beyond the first few moves, to students' understanding and the mathematics I was trying to teach" (p. 68). This metaphor focuses on "the interdependent relationship among the participants" in the dance (p. 90). It involves making different decisions at different points about who is going to lead and who is going to follow. Heaton opposes this metaphor to traditional textbook math teaching, which she sees as closer to traditional, rote dance. She discusses a sharing of leadership and control creation through action and response. Implicitly important is expecting the unexpected and letting the learning emerge through the process of collaborative improvisation.

Grand Visions and Possible Lives

Finding the Public Good Through the Details of Classroom Life

By Mike Rose, Education Week, October 11,2206

We can all agree,” wrote a contributing editor for The Weekly Standard not long ago, “that American public schools are a joke.” This way of thinking and talking about our public schools has been with us for some time. It was what led me, in the early and mid-1990s, on a cross-country journey to observe a wide variety of public schools that had been judged by their teachers, students, and parents to be good and decent places of learning. This journey was both geographical—recording actual classrooms and communities across the United States—and philosophical, trying to gain a lived, felt sense of what public education means in a democracy. The result was a book called Possible Lives. Now, a decade after its publication, the same kind of reflective journey is more needed than ever.

In the midst of the culture wars that swirl around schools; the fractious, intractable school politics; the conservative assault on public institutions; and the testing, testing, testing—in the midst of all this, it is easy to lose sight of the broader purpose and grand vision of the common public school. For me, that grand vision came through, fresh and vibrant, in the common, everyday detail of classrooms, the words and gestures of a good teacher, the looks on the faces of students thinking their way through a problem.

We have so little of such detail in our national discussion of teaching, learning, or the very notion of public education itself. It has all become a contentious abstraction. But detail gives us the sense of a place, something that can get lost in policy discussions about our schools—or, for that matter, in so much of our national discussion about ourselves. Too often, we deal in broad brush strokes about regions, about politics and economics, about racial, linguistic, and other social characteristics. Witness the red state-blue state distinction, one that, yes, tells us something quick and consequential about averages, but misses so much about local social and political dynamics, the lived civic variability within.

The details of classroom life convey, in a specific and physical way, the intellectual work being done, day to day, across the nation—the feel and clatter of teaching and learning. I’m thinking right now of a moment from a chemistry class in Pasadena, Calif., that I observed. The students had been conducting experiments to determine the polarity of various materials. Some were washing test tubes, holding them up to the windows for the glint of sunlight, checking for a bad rinse. Some were mixing salt and water to prepare one of their polar materials. Some were cautiously filling droppers with hydrochloric acid or carbon tetrachloride. And some were stirring solutions with glass rods, squinting to see the results. There was lots of chatter and lots of questions of the teacher, who walked from student to student, asking what they were doing and why, and what they were finding out.

The students were learning about the important concept of polarity. They were also learning to be systematic and methodical. And moving through the room was the teacher, asking questions, responding, fostering a scientific cast of mind.

This sort of classroom scene is not rare. And collectively, such moments give a palpable sense of what it means to have, distributed across a nation, available by law to all, a public educational system to provide the opportunity for such intellectual development.

Without a doubt, there is much that is wrong with our schools. Citizens in a democracy must continually assess the performance of their public institutions. But the quality and language of that evaluation matter. Before we can evaluate, we need to be clear about what it is we’re evaluating, what the nature of the thing is: its variables and intricacies, its goals and purpose. We should also ask why we’re evaluating. To what end?

Neither the sweeping rhetoric of public school failure nor the continual focus on test scores helps us here. Both exclude the important, challenging work done daily in schools across the country, thereby limiting the educational vocabulary and imagery available to us. This way of talking about schools constrains the way we frame problems and blinkers our imagination.

There have been times in our history when the idea of “the public” has been invested with great agency and imagination. Such is not the case now. An entire generation has come of age amid disillusionment with public institutions and public life, disillusionment born of high-profile government scandal and institutional inefficiency, but, more so, from a skillful advocacy by conservative policymakers and pundits of the broad virtues of free markets and individual enterprise.

Citizens in a democracy must continually assess the performance of their public institutions. But the quality and language of that evaluation matter.

Clearly, there are domains of public life that benefit from market forces, and individual enterprise is a powerful force for both personal advancement and public benefit. Moreover, the very notion of “public” is a fluid one; it changes historically, exists in varied relationships to the private sector, and, on occasion, fuses with that sector in creative ways. And, as I have noted, we must not simply accept our public institutions as they are, but be vigilantly engaged with them.

Our reigning orthodoxy on the public sphere is much less nuanced. Instead, we celebrate the market and private initiative as cure-alls to our social and civic obligations.

This easy dismissiveness of the public sector also has its ugly side, characterizing anything public as inferior … or worse. I remember a Los Angeles talk-show host who called the children enrolled in the Los Angeles school district “garbage.” And, in a comment both telling and sad, the kids I met during my travels said on several occasions that they knew people thought of them as “debris.”

We have to do better than this. We have to develop a revitalized sense of public life and public education.

One tangible resource for such a revitalization became clear to me over the course of my journey through America’s public school classrooms. Out of the thousands of small, daily events of classroom life I witnessed—out of the details of the work done there—I gained a deeper appreciation for what’s possible in America’s public sphere.

This sense of the possible came to me when a child learned to take another child seriously, to think something through with other children, to learn about perspective and the range of human experience and talent. It came when, over time, a child arrived at an understanding of number, or acquired skill in rendering an idea in written language. It came when a group of students crowded around a lab table trying to figure out why a predicted reaction fizzled. When a local event or regional dialect or familiar tall tale became a creative resource for visual art or spoken word. When a developing athlete planted the pole squarely in the box and vaulted skyward. When a student said that his teacher “coaxes our thinking along.” When a teacher, thinking back on it all, mused on the power of “watching your students at such an important time in their lives encounter the world.”

It is in such moments—moments in public school classrooms—that something of immense promise for the nation is being confirmed.

There is, of course, nothing inherently public or private about such activities. They occur daily in private schools, in church organizations, in back yards. But there is something compelling, I think, about raising one’s gaze outward, beyond the immediate window or fence, to the science lesson at the forest’s edge or the novel crammed into the hip pocket on the city bus.

The public school gives rise to these moments in a common space, supports them, commits to them as a public good, affirms the capacity of all of us, contributes to what the post-Revolutionary War writer Samuel Harrison Smith called the “general diffusion of knowledge” across the republic. Such a mass public endeavor creates a citizenry.

As our notion of the public shrinks, the full meaning of public education, the cognitive and social luxuriance of it, fades. Achievement is still possible, but it loses its civic heart.

Mike Rose is a professor of education at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the author of Possible Lives: The Promise of Public Education in America and Lives on the Boundary: A Moving Account of the Struggles and Achievements of America’s Educationally Underprepared.


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Last modified: October 11, 2006

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