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Sunday, January 23, 2011


I am wondering about the metaphor of your teaching. What is the fundamental frame or metaphor of your teaching? Thinking this way is based on a split in linguistics from the syntactic model in Chomsky to a semantic model developed by Lakoff and others.

As an example Lakoff analyzes the fundamental metaphors of the 'conservative' and 'progressive' political landscape. In this he distinguishes between a 'strict father' model (conservative) and a 'family nurturing' model (progressive). He has written a couple of books on this (that include reflection on the deeper structures of brain activity involved in animating such metaphors). There is also an historian and sinologist (Edward Slingerland) who has used this sort of method to explore non-action. He does an analysis of the basic metaphors of self when considering action and non-action.

The method of 'public humiliation' seems to me an expression of some particular frame. Certainly it seems to involve not only an assertion of objective reference to 'right' and 'wrong', but also how to procedurally go about teaching that. So I am wondering, what is your basic frame or metaphor for teaching?
The case of a 'pedagogy of humiliation' is a rich place ot explore this, since it is an area of apparent conflict. This can reveal a moment of reflection, as Linda has demonstrated. In that reflection it can be useful to then extrapolate out to the intended and unintended consequences of such frames; e.g, "Oh, if this is my assumed and enacted frame, what does it look like in these other contexts of life?"

As a side note, Mary-Kathrine Bateson suggests in her book "Our Own Metaphor" that there is a correlation between the complexity of our metaphor of self and our ability to perceive complexity in the world. That is a reflection on the structure of reflection, I feel.

I hope I have not been too interruptive jumping in here and if you would rather move this to my blog (, please let me know. -roger


  1. I have a copy of Metaphors We Live by-Lakoff's first book on Metaphor, I think. His work is very interesting resulting in thoughts of reflection, internal dialogue, and conversation to grapple with how his work challenges your own thought processes.

    Much of my teaching metaphor is derived from an environment for learning and collaboratively engaging in the learning process together. Though not well articulated here, I strive to have students realize the importance of their voice. This is probably a stronger metaphor for me though I don't think most students realize my efforts in having them realize it. Problematic with how I frame it more than what we do in class. This ultimately leads me to a great deal of frustration when students are simply in a ge course to check the box and move on.

  2. My metaphor of teaching? I really like this question. I have to admit I haven't thought about this much, but it is something like creating a structure where students must advance to a higher level of understanding of that topic or of themselves. As i write this it occurs to me that this doesn't really give students autonomy in how to achieve learning (asI define the structure). It also assumes I know what they need to learn. It assumes I know and they don't. It assumes all students are the same. Thanks Roger...I am even more confused and dismayed.

  3. My metaphor is mid-wife. I see myself as an assistant to the birth of their intellectually-independent self. As a mid-wife, I must be attentive to their holistic well-being...are they thriving on all fronts?, getting the nourishment they need?, breathing life into their unique strengths?

  4. This made me think - the first metaphor that came to mind is "ghost". I'm there, I'm not there. I poke at students to turn their heads in different ways. I'm the training wheels on a bike that wants more than anything to not be useful anymore - that you're ready to bike away without me. I like the ambiguity of knowing but realize that pisses of my students. I don't like being the center of attention, I like being in the background...I'm realizing that who I am as a teacher is just who I am

  5. My metaphor comes from one that is constantly cited at the college I went to. There was an instructor at the college in the early 1800s who was much loved (his name was Mark Hopkins) and renowned for the quality of his teaching. He was famously (well, famous in the circle of alumni of a very small college) remembered when someone said that the best teaching occurred when a student sat down with Mark Hopkins at the end of a log. No facilities, no technology, no textbooks -- just a conversation. Although I have a reputation among students in my department, I have always been gratified by students who come away from conversation with me and felt they learned a lot. I have also learned a lot from students in these conversations. So, the "log" metaphor, for me, represents the personal/conversational connection that can occur with individual students and with groups of students. If I feel like I've connected, then I feel like I can forge ahead.