It makes a difference…
Miss Adams is attending a teacher’s conference. The mascot of the conference is the starfish. The individual sessions are modeling how to integrate a theme across disciplines. The starfish is the mascot because of that allegory about the man throwing beached starfish back into the water who would otherwise die. There are like… millions of beached, dying starfish so it is a pointless pursuit, which a bystander points out. “You can’t save them all,” the bystander says. “So what difference does it make?”
The man throws a starfish into the water saying, “It makes a difference to that one.”
Earnest—mostly white, mostly female—faces nodding. They are all starfish savers, making a difference to that one.
Miss Adams usually tears up at metaphors like this, and this is no exception.
But the science model-lesson, where they are dissecting starfish, makes her feel extremely uncomfortable. Miss Adams knows that they are integrating the starfish idea—so it is across disciplines—but didn’t the science department hear the whole thing about saving starfish? And now they are dissecting them? She raises her hand to ask about the starfish and is told that they are grown in a lab that does this sort of thing just for science students. These aren’t wild caught starfish. This is why these starfish exist at all––for the education and analysis which students can only learn by dissection. This is how science and medicine have advanced so far. Miss Adams recognizes it and is a bit embarrassed. But she can’t help herself continuing…
…but then the metaphor of the starfish and the student is really quite a horrific comparison as they are slicing open purple-dyed, dead starfish arms—she says it more diplomatically than this. But she stops mid-sentence, at last understanding.
Metaphor is a mascot.
Metaphor is a story to make you feel better.
Metaphor has nothing to do with science.
It is important to show up…
Miss Adams is taking an online continuing education class on teaching gifted students. The lectures and discussions all take place on Zoom. There is the whole global pandemic thing. And most of the participants are living in places that are currently being ravaged by wildfires. Before the class starts, one participant shares how she’s seeing farmers bringing their livestock into gas station parking lots, so their cows and horses don’t all burn up at home.
None of the participants are currently being evacuated, and everyone is on-time for the class. Everyone has stories to share about their very special students who are misunderstood and suffering in their classrooms.
Miss Adams is exhausted and in a mood. She finds herself hating the other teachers and finds their comments not only moot but insufferable. She turns off her microphone and camera and screams to no one: “Why are you talking and pretending as if everything isn’t ON FIRE?”
She takes some deep breaths.
What good does it do anyone to panic? Routine is important for sanity, and right now sanity is in short supply.
She listens to the rest of the lecture. She even turns on her camera and microphone from time to time because she knows it is important to participate in the class.
It is part of her grade.
The real world is neither real nor a world. Discuss…
She is glad to be back in an actual classroom again, even though she is not sure what the bottom half of her students’ faces look like. What does it matter, anyway, the human face? Soon they will all only exist in some digital platform version of Plato’s Cave, interacting with fantasy versions of themselves and the world. Maybe it already is like that, anyway. Maybe it has always been so, which is why Plato made up the whole cave allegory in the first place.
One of her students, a favorite, is sneaking time on their phone. Miss Adams hates being the bad guy, taking away their technology, and so she walks over slowly enough for the student to put it away. The student misses this chance, too engrossed in their shadow world. Miss Adams is right over their shoulder before the student’s eyes lift.
Miss Adams puts out her hand to take the student’s phone.
The student puts their phone in their pocket.
“Don’t let me see it again,” Miss Adams says, firm but merciful.
The student holds their hands up, showing them empty.
She notices then that her student has a ring shaped like a starfish.
“I like your ring,” she says to her student.
“I love starfish,” the student says. “They are the coolest.”
“Starfish, you know, if you cut off their arms, they grow back.”
Miss Adams looks out the window, her eyes starting to mist, her insides squeezing. She wants to believe it. But she wonders if it is really true.
The physiological response is annoying. She shouldn’t cry.
“I’ve heard that before,” Miss Adams says, “but I had forgotten about it. Thanks for the reminder.”
She smiles beneath her mask at the student, who of course, cannot see it.
She tells herself to pull it together.
It doesn’t matter if it is true or not—students were never starfish.
No one is a metaphor.