Against Cultivation: On the Dark Side of the Gardening Metaphor for Teaching

  • Oded Zipory Hebrew University of Jerusalem


Perhaps no metaphor for teaching is more dominant than that of gardening. It is commonly associated with student-centeredness, individual flourishing, and a non-oppressive teaching approach. In this article, however, I argue that despite its seeming harmlessness, cultivation metaphors have a darker side that rarely gets attention. As such, educational cultivation is not simply open to various interpretations, but includes a deep, irreducible, and disturbing aspect within both agriculture and within the tradition of western education tradition, namely, that of centralized control in the service of the civilization process. Following mainly the recent book of anthropologist and political scientist James Scott Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Early States (2017), and applying it (metaphorically and not) to the question of educational cultivation, I suggest that cultivation excludes, or even eliminates with almost no trace, alternative modes of learning: those uncontrolled, not “domesticated” or which are “wild.” Instead or at least in addition to the long-standing educational metaphor of the garden, I propose the metaphor of the forest as a way to encourage freer, less controlled modes of learning.

Peer Reviewed Articles