Monday, September 17, 2007

Allegory, Sweet Allegory

When you work with contemporary texts, you don't see much action with allegory. I don't know if it's because the Modernists exhausted it, or living writers have shied away from the medieval or what, but I don't get to work with it so very often. I do find, however, that there are several allegories that work as my pedagogical models. Newton and the apple; Joycean epiphanies, you name it. My favorite one of all time, however, is The Miracle Worker allegory. Children of the 70's, cast your minds back to Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke playing out the story of Helen Keller. If I remember correctly, there's an extended sequence of Bancroft taking Duke down to the pump. She signs the word "water" and pumps the water over her hand to indicate the connection between the two (and, many would argue, the role of linguistic/semiotic representation vis-a-vis the world). Through the ever-useful, time-compressing qualities of montage, we see this again and again. Sign the word, pump the water. Sign the word, pump the water. These two things are connected! If you get that connection, you'll see a whole new vista on your place in the world! Perhaps you've had this experience as a teacher? Both the "I just showed Helen the world!" moment, and, more often, the "I have tried every trick in the book but this child is trapped in her own head" moment?

This morning, I had one of the top five latter Annie Sullivan moments of my teaching career. I was meeting with a student about her upcoming presentation on a canonical theorist. I've had her before, and I know this is not her strength. This is not even her weakness or Achilles heel. To follow out this metaphor, this is not even somewhere near her body, but more like down the hall locked in a cabinet. So we're struggling through. I'm signing and pumping, signing and pumping. And she's grasping at straws, one after another. I sign "water" and pump the water. She says "toaster." I sign "water" and pump the water. She says "baby panda." I sign and pump, sign and pump, sign and pump. She leaves, and maybe whispers "wet?"

We'll see how it goes tomorrow. I'll hold my breath and get my pumping arm ready, but I have a feeling that Keller's parents would have hired a new teacher by now. Miracle worker I'm not.



Blogger Ashley said...

Well, at least if you get a presentation on baby pandas, your day will have that much more cute in it, yes?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007 8:53:00 AM  
Blogger Flavia said...

Dude. That's funny, that is.

Friday, September 21, 2007 6:54:00 PM  
Blogger kfluff said...

It wasn't baby pandas. And I don't know if that's good or bad. It was sort of like "well, it's wet and clear. But it's smells like baby pandas!"

I've GOT to get a new set of metaphors.

Saturday, September 22, 2007 4:34:00 PM  

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