The Metaphor of School - Part III

10/20/16, 10:04 AM

300px-Sanzio_01-1 01The Metaphor of School – Part III

So, I think about this school metaphor often.  So far we have looked at school as factory and school as prison, and pretty soundly rejected both of them despite the fact that the metaphor is quite common.

Traditionally and historically, the idea of school in the West begins with the Greeks; I guess we all know or assume that – though for sure the tradition of school precedes the Greeks in Jewish education.  There’s a reason our Jewish friends are called “People of the Book.”

The metaphor of school finds one of its expressions in the Greek concept of the “gymnasium,” and schools in Europe are still labeled wiht the word ‘gymnasium.”  And as we might expect the concept involves “training” of the mind and of the body.  While it is mostly seen today in Germany as secondary and prepatory schools, its origin involves the education and training of young Greek men.

I like to point out that the “gymnasium” became the “academy,” and the concept is best represented by Raphael’s painting of The Platonic Academy.  It’s also fun to point out that I’ve had a print of this painting in my classroom for over 30 years – a gentle reminder to students that we are present to study, talk, and learn.  But again the notion of the “academy” was that it was reserved for privileged young men. It seems that in that metaphor of school, women were just left out. Some would claim they still are.

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The notions of the gymnasium and the academy are well-intentioned, and they are important metaphors, but the conception behind these institutions involved privileged young men, not everyone and certainly not women.

When we think of education today, we think of universal education for everyone.  We live in a democracy and education for all is necessary to continue and to maintain our democratic traditions.

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