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Saturday, 21 January 2017

Metaphors

For those of you who’ve forgotten from high school, a metaphor is comparison of two unlike things.  A simile is a metaphor using like or as to connection the two objects.  Poetry makes great use of metaphors and I’ve always found my favourite songs utilize an extended metaphor to create a feeling or image “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan or “Brown Sugar” by the Rolling Stones or “Drops like Jupiter” by Train or “I Can See Clearly Now” Johnny Nash or “Pocket of a Clown” by Dwight Yoakam.  You get my drift. 
The teaching profession uses metaphors to justify teaching practice.  The last superintendent of schools introduced herself to parents and teachers with a metaphor that went something like this.  Eye surgeons once used a scalpel to remove a cataract from a patient’s eye but, today, they use lasers.  What was once a somewhat dangerous and expensive procedure has now become cheap and routine.  By extension, through the introduction of radical new teaching methods, students should be able to learn more quickly and efficiently. 
I realize that I may not have been expected to take the metaphor literally.  Nevertheless, I was flummoxed.  How are the two alike?  One’s a mental process.  The other is a physical.  We have lots of examples of improvements in the way we deal with our physical health however mental still causes issues.  I knew she couldn’t be talking about drugs which would have been the most appropriate point of comparison.  So, what was she trying to say?  Over the next few years, we would learn. 
During one in-service, we were told that students should be able to redo an assignment as often as
they wanted.  By way of support, the in-service leader utilized a metaphor about packing a parachute and a graph for us to better visualize the message.  Let’s say you have a large group of students.  One group, for whatever reason, don’t improve no matter how many times they practice.  Another, are good at the beginning and although they improve a little, never become excellent.  A third group starts out poorly but eventually becomes the most excellent parachute packers.  However, if marks were given for each time an individual packed a parachute, then the middle group would achieve the highest marks.  When, in fact, if you were to hire a parachute packer, you should be hiring from the last group.  So, students should not be evaluated based on their first attempt at an assignment.  They should be evaluated by what they’ve achieved at the coursess end.  Or, as it was later interpreted, when a student has mastered an objective. 
Dreaded bell curve
The problem again, has to do with the concreteness of the metaphor and the subjective nature of teaching and teacher evaluation.  As a student progresses beyond grade 3, he or she can never truly master any one objective.  Increasingly, evaluation becomes a process of comparison so that, by Grade 12, the assessment branch of Alberta Education determines the quality of its diploma exams not only by the way it tests the curriculum objectives but the average.  It should be somewhere in the 65% range.  And then in university, you get the bell curve.  That is a small percentage of the class will get an “A,” a large percentage will get a “B” and “C” and a small percentage, a “D.”  The test for quality of parachute packing mustn’t go too far beyond whether or not it will open when the sky diver pulls the rip cord.  The consequences of it not opening are dire. 
School administrators have argued that the universities have it wrong.  They should be using the same objective criteria for evaluation as the schools.  The question is, how do they do that?  We don’t live in a finite universe.  As our knowledge on a particular subject improves, we increasingly discover how little we know.  Which brings me to my favourite subject and quandary about recent social phenomenon.  Yes, that’s none other than the election of Donald Trump as president. 
Instead of logical argument, I will use a metaphor as my method of support and not to confuse it one can be objectively quantified and tested using a scientific method, I will do so in the form of a poem.  

A tranquil sea where all may languish,                           
A rough one brings on loads of anguish,         
But, what upon horizon breaks?
A raft of gold and glitter flakes,
What if nothing’s below the hull
The captain cries he’ll save them all
From tawdry tasks that pay f**k all.
All you need’s to climb aboard
And join this righteous holy horde
On a journey, only Donald knows
From whence it starts and where it goes. 

Some wonder what if storms appear
Where is stored the safety gear? 
Captain Donald says, “you need not fear
The seas for me are always clear
How else could all this gold be here? 
Meanwhile, women, keep your privates clear.”

And what of this other ship we did not choose 
Just how smoothly does it cruise
It’s run by women, it’s fun by fobs
Who come to steal our precious jobs
And unlike Trump’s big gold raft,
With almost nothing of a draught
Most of this ship can’t be seen
Invisible below the water’s bright gleam. 
How do we trust what we cannot know, 
Which is why our love for Donald grows,
Just look at all the gold and glitter   
And he is such as whiz at twitter.
He doesn’t talk fancy.  He’s just like us
There is no science.  There is no fuss
Trump pretends there is no mystery
To what’s causing us the misery
It’s not computers, it’s not the phones
It’s not the robots that make us groan
We love those things that work like magic
And that is why this story’s tragic. 


Raft of reeds covered with gold dust & emeralds for
newly appointed chief of Muisca people of Bolivia