Written for this week’s DPChallenge: Easy as Pie
Once upon a time when I had a job and an income and approximately the same amount of stress but coming from different areas, I was a high school English teacher in a kinda-stupid-but-ridiculously-snooty-even-though-it-is-mostly-populated-by-well-off-white-trash-types suburb.
The educational paradigm there was trying to shift itself into a thing that was totally student-centered. As such, students were supposed to figure out what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives by age 14 and subsequently take only classes that would further this aim for the rest of their high school career and beyond.
I thought this model was pretty dumb. I’m certainly pro-career-minded education and allowing students to choose classes that will appeal to their interests as well as their individual learning styles; however, how’s anybody supposed to know what he’s going to do for the rest of his entire life at age 14? And shouldn’t we force him to read some things he doesn’t like, and do some math problems he’ll never use just to expand and exercise his brain?
Anyway, the point of this post is to fit into the weekly writing challenge and to set up, in your mind’s eye, my classroom in which the following frustrations took place:
Teaching metaphors and similes to ninth graders is like putting a Santa Claus costume on a cat.
You have to use a lot of force and a lot more cajoling, and then the end product isn’t even that attractive.
Because explaining the difference between a simile and just any old comparison to a bunch of freshmen is like explaining the difference between a tuna and a dolphin to a really backward, unconcerned-with-law deep-sea fisherman.
You can do it all day long, until all your breath is gone, and that fisherman is still going to harpoon the closest thing in the water, be it tuna, halibut, dolphin, or a smaller boat. And that freshman, when asked to write a simile, is going to write you things like, “The baseball game was like a football game, except with fewer yardlines,” and “The Revolutionary War was like the Civil War, except with more British people.” (Note: These are paraphrases of actual sentences that actually came across my desk.)
Oh yes, ninth graders can spout off the definition of a metaphor or a simile as vociferously and reliably as Ol’ Faithful spewing hot water.
But just like that hot water in Wyoming that springs up from the ground and turns ethereal, these definitions cannot be accessed in any useful, meaningful way.
That is, until those definitions, like that water that is steam, rematerialize in a different form and fall back on the students.
But it’s not their fault, not really.
A fourteen-year-old’s brain is Jello that hasn’t completely set. There’s good stuff in there, and a lot of it–a can of fruit cocktail, some marshmallows. But it’s not ready for consumption: It still needs to be poured into a mold and then left in the icebox for a few hours.
One day, perhaps, after having endured the proper conditions, a brain is ready to come out of the fridge and be served out of delightful little fancy glasses.
And, of course, the thing about Jello, which also goes for a brain: There’s always room for it.