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Metaphor in Education

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posted on 2021-11-11, 20:20 authored by Kortens, Maureen

Without metaphor there would be no legs on the table, no hands on the clock. These are dead metaphors. Even that expression is a metaphor, for how can something be dead that has never literally been born. It is an expression which cannot be taken literally. In its first use it was 'alive' in the sense of being new or witty or apt and memorable. Without metaphor we are reduced to the bare bones of language, to a kind of Orwellian Newspeak. One can hardly avoid using metaphors to explain them. Even scientists and mathematicians use metaphors but they usually refer to them as models. Metaphor is a function of language which enables us to be creative. Not only the person who coins, invents, or thinks of the new metaphor but also the listener or reader who constructs a personal meaning for him or her self. We speak of creativity in education, as a human capacity to be encouraged and developed. How creative can humans be? Do they ever really 'create' anything new apart from reproductions of themselves? Any creative activity such as painting, building or gardening is really re-organising elements already created. So humans enjoy 'creating' their own order, forms, or patterns which we call art. Language is capable of endless patterns. The basic patterns, usually known as grammar, appear to be innate and in speech and writing we use these 'inbuilt' structures to create new sentences of our own. At its highest level we call this literature. It has taken us some time to realise that a word in itself has no meaning as it is a symbol only. For those aspects of experience which are difficult to explain we turn to metaphor. Thus religions often use myths and symbols. Anthropology describes many human activities as metaphoric, for example myths or totemism. Practically every sphere of human activity is imbued with this magical quality of metaphor, for it extends our understanding of the world by giving us a kind of 'elastic' way of describing our experiences. It is not the prerogative of writers or poets but a power we all possess and one which has been derided and abused at times in our history. Only now is it increasingly being recognized as a human capacity worthy of study. In this work I delve into some aspects of the use of metaphor to show how we need to be aware of its potent, pervasive power, especially those of us involved in teaching for whom I will attempt to demonstrate that teaching is itself a metaphoric activity.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Master of Education

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Education Studies


Collinge, Jih