Anyone who teaches a child has a theory or point of view concerning what a child is—even if they are not aware of it. Each theory can be explained in one or more metaphors. These theories are important because they drive a parent or teacher’s choices of experiences, curriculum and instruction for children.
Here are some examples:
Metaphor: A text score. Some people see a child only as a standardized assessment score as seen in IQ testing, SAT results, high stakes achievement tests and so on. These scores are placed on a bell-shaped curve and most children are expected to score in the middle. A few children on the ends of the curve may be recommended for Special Education or Gifted and Talented programs. This view implies that not all children can be a genius and usually means that a child is either born smart or not. Everything about the child is ignored except for the grade or score they are able to attain at a particular point in time in a particular context. In addition, the score indicates how well a child is able to guess what the test-maker(s) intended. There is one and only one right answer—the test-maker(s)—and there is no leeway for individual imagination, cultural/economic differences or other factors.
Metaphor: Blackboard. In this behavioristic view, the child is a blank slate (tabula rasa) to be written upon by the adult. The child’s unique endowments do not matter. A child can become anything the adult wants it to be and the adult can use rewards and punishments to shape the child’s behavior.
Metaphor: Mini-Me. A child is seen as an extension, or no different, than the adult. In other words, a child is just a short adult. In this view, critical periods and developmental levels do not matter. A child can be taught anything at any age. Early childhood education, child labor laws and other special concessions are not necessary. Perhaps this view can be understood if a child lives in poverty and the child’s work is seen as necessary for family survival, but it is less understandable when children are pushed to be like adults in athletics, school success or “Our Little Miss” fashion shows.
Metaphor: A playful puppy. In this metaphor, a child is seen as learning best through free play. In play, a child can try things they are not yet old enough to actually do. They can take on roles and explore relationships; they can investigate, discover and interact with the world around them. According to Vygotsky, when a child plays, it is as if he were a head taller than himself. Imaginative play, according to him and others, is the most valuable and important way to learn as a child.
Metaphor: Fingerprint. Each fingerprint, even those of twins, is unique. Each child is unique. Neuroscience states this outright. Albert Einstein expresses the educational philosophy that accompanies this idea:
Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. In this view, it is incumbent upon the teacher or parent to seek out and nurture the special genius in each child.
Metaphor: Question mark. Your turn. How do you see a child? ???