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    Understanding Metaphor

    October 22, 2008 by Brandy Vencel

    Yesterday, our preschool reading was Max Lucado’s You Are Special. This book is a simple metaphor. There is a wooden person named Punchinello who was made by a wood carver named Eli. Eli is big and lives on top of the hill above the village where Punchinello lives. Punchinello, for reasons I won’t go into, is feeling very down on himself, but he goes to visit Eli anyhow, and Eli explains that he is special. The reason that Punchinello is special is that Eli made him. As Eli puts it to Punchinello, “You are special because you are mine.”

    Little A. is all girl, meaning that she is a sucker for a story like this.

    Usually, she and I do a quick preschool book together before Circle Time really gets going. During this time, O. and Q. are both napping and E. is outside in a chair trying to memorize his verses for Awana.

    Yesterday, E. came back inside before A. and I were finished. He was fairly polite, and quietly settled himself on the couch opposite us.

    The first time he spoke, it was mostly to himself. He said something about Eli being kind of like God. A little later, he muttered that Punchinello was kind of like us. By the end of the book, I had to shush him so that A. could hear the story. He was so excited! After we were done, he said, “Mommy! Mommy! I never understood that book before, but now I do! It isn’t just about Punchinello and Eli, but also about God and us!”

    His eyes were shining with the joy of epiphany.

    And I was pretty excited, too. You see, just a couple of days before, I had spent some time perusing Vigen Guroian’s Tending the Heart of Virtue: How Classic Stories Awaken a Child’s Moral Imagination. In the first chapter, Guroian spends time discussing the idea of moral imagination. He defines it this way:

    The moral imagination is not a thing, not even so much a faculty, as the very process by which the self makes metaphors out of images given by experience and then employs these metaphors to find and suppose moral correspondences in experience.

    He then goes into introducing the idea that certain experiences build this moral imagination. He writes:

    Unfortunately, more often than not, our society is failing to provide children with the kinds of experience that nurture and build the moral imagination. One measure of the impoverishment of the moral imagination in the rising generations is their inability to recognize, make, or use metaphors. My college students do not lack an awareness of morality…But when they read a novel they are perplexed because they are unable to find the inner connections of character, action, and narrative provided by the author’s own figurative imagination.


    [My students] lacked…a personal knowledge of metaphor that only an active imagination engenders.

    In the last couple of weeks, I have seen a little bit of fruit regarding our homeschooling. I don’t mean the passing of tests, but real fruit. My son’s ability to recognize a metaphor was one.

    So often I think homeschooling can feel like a journey of failure. Because, as Gurioan explains, childhood is more about moral formation than it is about socialization, it can feel like an uphill battle. Every parent knows that children are born sinful and even the sweetest child has his flaws. I have already learned that in homeschooling those flaws are encountered at an intimate level.

    This isn’t a bad thing. I think back to when our son was kindergarten age and lied a lot. {I can talk about this now that it is in the past.} One of the things Si and I discussed was how, had he been being schooled at an institution, we might never have known that he was lying. How many days, weeks, months or years might he have lied? Would he have become a liar in the worst sense?

    Homeschooling allows us to meet these flaws in the early stages and offer correction.

    However, having to give correction and discipline day in and day out can be exhausting.

    So that is why it is nice to have small successes as well. During those moments when we see a child show evidence of internalizing their lessons and adopting true virtue as their own, a parent can feel encouraged to continue the journey.

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