Last month I was in a posh English supermarket which shall go nameless. In the confectionary section, an oddly vegetable-like display required closer examination. And this is what it was:
Chocolate (image: yummy) covered in surprisingly realistic looking foil wrapping to make them look like small sprouts (image: getitoutofmymouth).
Which is a reminder of the metaphor, or analogy, of chocolate-covered broccoli. Here, the theory goes, learning is not fun (like eating broccoli) but if you wrap a video game around it which is fun and attractive and enticing (like eating chocolate) then learning will take place (the broccoli will be eaten).
It’s kind of a bit weird as an example, being so extreme. Though that’’s what makes it a simple and clear example. But, although widely used, it’s also never one I’ve been totally comfortable with as on analysis it doesn’t hold up very well:
- It reduces the game player, or broccoli eater, to someone who is gullible or not very bright, being able to literally swallow the broccoli, or learning, without realising. In this respect, it’s a somewhat patronising analogy.
- In fact, it reduces the player, learner, broccoli consumer to a sub-human level, like a pet. A dog being made to take a pill from the vet by covering it in dog food to disguise the appearance and taste.
- Not everyone likes chocolate – not everyone likes video games. Those who do like different kinds of chocolate. I like plain chocolate, but not milk chocolate (too sweet), for example.
- Not everyone dislikes broccoli – not everyone dislikes learning. It depends on the person, and what is being learnt. And those who like broccoli prefer it in different ways. Some steamed, some boiled, a few raw. That’s possibly a better analogy for learning, albeit more nuanced than a simplistic yummy/vile one.
- Once the player, learner, broccoli eater realises they have been “fooled”, they may be forever wary of the dispenser of chocolate covered items. Trust is broken.
Anyway, the sprout-appearance chocolate balls in the posh supermarket reminded me of this last night. I suspect there will be a lot of these severely marked down in sale price just after Christmas, so that may be a better time to buy. After remembering that it’s just chocolate, wrapped in leaf effect shiny green foil. But still, just chocolate.