Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Incorporating the Metaphors of Daily Life into the English/language Arts Curriculum

Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Incorporating the Metaphors of Daily Life into the English/language Arts Curriculum

Article excerpt


Many people may be surprised to learn that they have been speaking a kind of sub-poetry all their lives. The difference between their figures of speech and the poet's is that theirs are probably worn and trite, the poet's fresh and original. (Arp & Johnson, 2002, p. 785)

This elitist distinction between common and literary uses of metaphor appears in Arp and Johnson's (2002) introduction to a discussion of metaphor in a classic literature-based language arts textbook for use in grades 9 and 10 in the US. It probably resonates with most English/ language arts teachers, regardless of where we are, particularly if we entered teaching following the fairly standard Bachelor of Arts Degree in English (Literature) or an undergraduate education licensure degree with a specialisation in English/language arts. Unless we had taken courses in phenomenology, communications or sociology, we would most likely not have encountered the perspective on metaphor that I discovered through my self-initiated continuing education about language and about metaphor in particular. One doesn't usually acquire that knowledge in the course of studying English literature and language. Ironic, isn't it? The consequence of this lack of background knowledge of the pervasive uses and wider functions of metaphor is that we continue to teach students about metaphor in ways that we were ourselves taught, and we are mostly unconscious of how interwoven it is in all fields of human endeavour.

In the world outside the English/language arts classroom, particularly after Lakoff and Johnson's (1980) paradigm-breaking publication, Metaphors we live by, it's generally accepted that metaphor is pervasive in our language because we essentially think (author emphasis) metaphorically. Even in the field of Education, we refer to learning using garden metaphors (e.g., children as 'plants', their minds as 'fertile') and commonly refer to learning as 'about growth' and a 'journey'. Furthermore, we intuitively use metaphors because they have the rhetorical capacity to express otherwise difficult to express concepts in a concise and yet comprehensive way. Metaphors extend our imagination, acting through analogy as a representation of an experience, so that it becomes 'felt' and not simply recorded cognitively. Metaphors physicalise, make concrete, much that is abstract. To frame a selective overview of some of the major thinking on metaphor in general use, I've provided a brief discussion of three examples of metaphoric uses: two of them in general use and one in poetry. Three examples of metaphoric uses of language

Two short prose examples--an excerpt of a recreated overheard conversation in a coffee shop, an excerpt from a newspaper article--and an excerpt from a poem (see Table 1) will hopefully demonstrate how naturally present metaphors are in daily life, and yet how they slip by us, as metaphor, in our response to them, unlike our greater attentiveness to metaphoric use in poetry. The metaphors in the excerpts are in italics.

Whether metaphors in poetry, rather than those in general public use, are superior or not is really up to individuals to decide. The key point is that, regardless of who we are, we seem to find them very useful as way of rhetorically foregrounding what we consider important to us in discourse, no matter what its form.

We know from our experiences as educators in the US, the UK and Australia, as well as from research from the mid 1970s through to the present, that the ways in which poetry is utilised in K-12 classrooms--particularly in middle and secondary school classrooms--has alienated the majority of students from considering metaphor as central in their linguistic experience. In their recent analysis of why students persist in identifying poetry as their least favourite reading experience, Manuel, Petrosky and Dymoke (2013) reveal that little has changed in ways in which poetry is pervasively taught, including how figurative language is pervasively linked only to poetry for the purposes of identifying poetic elements and, more broadly, assessing critical comprehension. …

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