Thursday, September 07, 2006

building blocks

As children we are given blocks that are big so that we don't get choked on them as we play. The older we get, the smaller and more intricate the block game becomes. Certainly someone who never created their own leggo kingdom could learn to put together a difficult model airplane, but it would come more naturally to the person who could draw on previous putting-together experiences.

In elementary school much time is devoted to students learning their parts of speech. Eventually they start diagramming sentences, creating a picture to show exactly how each of the parts of speech work together to complete a sentence. At the same time they learn about using oxymorons in their writing to make it more descriptive. They learn how to appreciate such things as "little giants" and "boneless ribs", and how to manipulate those into telling a story.

But wait! Once they master that, and they think they know everything, the teacher writes the word "simile" on the board, and a new world of comparisions is opened. They learn to use the words like and as to bring more depth to their sentences:

Living with cancer is a struggle like the calm inside the eye of an F-5 tornado.

They practice their sentences, like the child with his Lincoln Logs, until they learn that comparisons can be made without using linking verbs, and those comparisons are called metaphors. They learn that sometimes it takes multiple sentences, or paragraphs, or sometimes stories to complete a good metaphor. They read Silverstein's The Giving Tree, if they enjoy reading banned books, and in later years of their formal writing educaiton they will be involved with heated literary debates about exactly what the metaphor was meant to disclose.

The little writers will grow up and use all of the tools they were taught to create their own literary works. Sure, anyone could write a story without having formal writing education; sure, those people can write best-sellers. However, some people would argue that the process of the craft would come more naturally to the person who had learned the building blocks of storytelling along the way.

The same is true of any profession.

We would not expect a pharmacist to tell us more than we wanted to know about the table of elements and how many free electrons they could each share to create compounds because those special compounds are how medicines are created. We do not ask them about the chemical makeup of our proton pump inhibitors because we are more concerned about how to take them and when to take them to make our stomach acid go away. We do not question the depth of their knowledge, but we do expect them to tell us about what medicines our physicians have prescribed. It is, after all, what they have studied and been trained to do.

However, there are aisles of over-the-counter medicatons and herbal remedies that anyone can perscribe for themselves without knowing their relationship to medications or treatments they are currently taking. There are cold remedies and pain medications that will alleviate our symptoms. Sometimes we need the knowledge of a pharmacist to assist us, even though it's a decision that we could easily make for ourselves.

We have certain expectations from people who work in different professional arenas. If your mechanic could not diagnose a cha-chugga-cha-chugga-ka when you attempt to turn on your engine, you would be disappointed. If a certified electrician gets shocked by working on a live outlet, you would question his ability to rewire the ceiling fan. A political figure who declares a literal "We must fight if we want peace." needs a diplomatic refresher course. You would wonder where along the way they were not paying attention to learning the building blocks of their profession, and you would not be surprised when their model airplane fell apart in their laps.

Sometimes it's hard to see the big picture of the model airplane when your children are gnawing on duplos, but take comfort in knowing that with perseverance and study they can write the next great novel, discover the cure for cancer, or become the next idiot President.

* Two points are rewarded to any reader who recognized the allegory.
* Two additional points will be rewarded if you did have to look up the word allegory to see if you could find it.

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