When I speak to teachers I like to encourage them to be aware of—and maybe take a critical eye—to the metaphors that we use to think about education. Metaphors are narratives, narratives are by definition partial realities, and, like any narrative, will highlight some aspects and occlude others.
I particularly question putting education in physical terms: filling empty vessels, “throwing stuff at you,” building skills, or the one that makes the least sense to me but I hear most often “covering material.” This brings to my mind images of a mean cafeteria lady resembling the cook in Matilda, slopping down spoonfuls of mass-produced, institutional gruel onto styrofoam plates: “Here, kids, take your glop of education.”
What if we expand our thinking and our creative teaching potential by imagining beyond the physical and material. I LOVE, of course, the metaphor (I think it’s much more than a metaphor, actually) of performance. Teachers are performers, students are performers, and education is a performative act. It is a bringing forth of transformative subjective experience. Education happens as an ephemeral enactment in time, not the distribution of “stuff.” It’s a matter of moments lived through and changes felt.
So, I asked myself, what’s a better phrase to use the next time a teacher walks into a classroom and is tempted to say, “Ok, students, we have a lot of material to cover today . . .”?
Then it hit me! The recital theme from this year—borrowed from the opening number of the Broadway musical Pippin:
“Hello, class! Today we’ve got . . . [breaks into song and dance] . . . MAGIC TO DO! We’ve parts to perform, hearts to warm, as we go along our way . . . “
I think that covers the transformative, enactive, and affective aspects of education that we might be tempted to forget with “material to cover.”
I legit teach my classes this way, in case you’re wondering!