The Metaphors We Tell Ourselves

Internal monologues are incredibly revealing. Let’s take a minute.


What kind of language do you use to describe your education, and your role in it? What kinds of metaphors inhabit your thoughts? What is your project?


One (dangerous) metaphor in education is the conveyor belt. In this view, the educational system itself provides the motion (it moves the belt), while you stand and wait for some final destination to be reached. This deeply passive metaphor is inspired by the industrial economy. By the nature of being pushed along a conveyor belt, you aren’t the one running the show. Many students, whether consciously or not, adopt this attitude towards learning.


Another metaphor for one’s education is that of the gatekeeper. As a student, you complete daily trials and pass weekly exams. At the end of the semester, a seal of approval is awarded to you. Every four years, an even more important seal is presented – a gate that has been opened. Now, the institution says, you may walk through the gate. Of course, this metaphor also paints a profoundly passive scenario; there are possessors of knowledge (the education system), and then there’s you. The recipient.


College students, even at renowned institutions, fall into this trap every day. Curricula used to be debated upon by students – they took an active role in deciding what to study. Today, we think of education as some glimmering, amorphous object: it begins in the hands of a university and is handed down, as if a family heirloom. Now, the world tell us, we’re educated. 


So, what’s your metaphor? Are you a “consumer of educational goods”? (An industry favorite.) Are you waiting before the gates of your high school or college, eager for them to hand over that golden, glowing, knowledge-orb?


Or, instead, maybe you’re building a skyscraper. Maybe you’re writing a symphony. Maybe you know that you are part of the marrow of your school, and as such, you really do have the power to change it – if you gather some friends and make a concerted effort.


Are you waiting to graduate, thinking of your degree as the golden key to a nice, cozy salary? Here’s a secret: it’s not. The conveyor belt leads nowhere. At some point, you have to hop off, look around, and realize that your skills, your connections and your habits are entirely in your hands. 


I think you’re sculpting something magnificent – your own Parthenon, maybe. But if the metaphor you tell yourself turns you into a passive recipient, the world will never see your work. So choose your metaphor, and own it.