Friday, November 4, 2011

Going to Bat for my People in EDM 310

First of all, if you got the metaphor in "Don't Bring your Pencils Home" by Tom Johnson, congratulations. Well done. Enjoy your gift. I will enjoy mine.

woman hitting baseball
If you didn't get the metaphor this semester or anytime in the past, this is for YOU, my dear people.

 Here are some reasons,I think, students swung and missed on this one.

1) Students were in the on-deck circle, all alone: Most students probably read this post in isolation. That is, they read it alone somewhere without anyone to talk to about it. They did not engage in conversation about what they had read. Their thinking was narrowed because of this.

2) Students were expecting a fastball and got as curve ball on the outside corner: After many weeks of watching videos and reading articles that called for literal translation, they were expecting it to be like that again. Many (6) weeks have passed since the Scott McLeod article. I think this was a big factor. It was all about the expectations for some.

3) Students went to the game and it started to rain after the first inning: The metaphor just wasn't very good. I think the author is an excellent writer. I love his word choice and his smoothness. He is very talented.I could read his stuff all day long! But the  metaphor is weak, in my opinion. Usually a metaphor provides a grand image and it's easy to recognize. A weak metaphor that runs that long is sometimes hard to distinguish. There is no larger image in this post, only a story that creates an interesting scene and wonderful characters.
So, if you take the word pencils out of this post and replace it with paperclips, will the story still work? Will the metaphor work? What if we put in the word puppy?  Most metaphors are much stronger than this one.

If a student missed the metaphor in the assignment, read it again, and still didn't understand, it is a weak metaphor.

4) Students thought they saw a triple play: Many students probably considered the story ridiculous and rare for real life ,but not completely out of the realm of possibilities. That is, as wrong as the story was, they thought it could actually  happen. Students based their thinking on experience. Many of these students were in high school just a few years ago, taking standardized tests.How many of them could tell you a rule that they considered absolutely ridiculous? Probably all of them. Let's face it. The educational system is often portrayed negatively and many have had negative experiences with rules. Has anyone watched John Stossel "Stupid in America?" I have.

5) Students got a Coke at the concession but always thought it was a Pepsi: The writer himself describes his post as a satirical story. There are other elements of literature in this story . Maybe a student saw hyperbole? figurative language? symbolism?  Just not the metaphor.

A good manager will always stand up for her players.

I hope I got a good  hit  for the team  in EDM 310.                  Game Over.


  1. I have to agree with you on this!

  2. This is great Tricia! It is interesting to see the students' perspective.

    Stephen Akins

  3. Thanks for the kind words on my writing style. Just to offer push-back on point #3: it was written as satirical allegory. Allegory is supposed to be an extended metaphor, which this was. Allegory is supposed to be a narrative as a metaphor (rather than a direct, persuasive or functional text). Again, this was. It is possible (perhaps probable) that it was a bad metaphor, but I still think it was decent allegory.

    In terms of satire, it wasn't great. I'll admit that much. Good satire is over-the-top. This wasn't over-the-top enough. Great satire is funny. That post probably did not invite more than a smirk.

    So the real issue might not be the inability to see metaphor so much as the inability to grasp satire (or to see subtle satire). This is especially true when the site itself does not look deliberately satirical. I can't blame students too much. I was fooled last year by an April Fool's satirical news story on NPR.

    In terms of the exchangeability of the metaphor, I would argue that paperclips fail, because they are not used as a primary learning tool. The same goes with puppy. Paper works wonderfully, though. I'll stick with it.

    Your analysis is well-written and I love the baseball/softball metaphor. I only bring this up as a distinction between metaphor, allegory and satire.