The Grand Jigsaw Puzzle

For each of the last two Christmases, my parents gave a 1000-piece puzzle to the family members of my generation. There are 10 of us: 5 siblings and our spouses. 

While we tend to the competetive (in only the very best way), we can also cooperate at a challenging task. We accomplished the puzzles in a few hours both years.

When we do a jigsaw puzzle, we do it as I assume anyone does one. We find the edges. We sort the colors. Pieces with words and letters get passed to one brother. All the red pieces are put into a pile.
We work on the area before us. We try pieces and some fit: euphoria. We try others and they don’t: frustration. Some pieces come out of the box already assembled, that’s a win!

By looking at the boxtop, we’re able to determine where some pieces go right away and pass them to the person who is working in that area. From time to time we change positions so we see a different area with fresh eyes.

We work together, we joke together, we blame each other in a teasing manner. (at least, I hope it’s teasing) We enjoy each other’s company and a sense of accomplishment when the puzzle is complete.

In the new year, I started Jennifer Dow’s new self-paced eCourse: The Five Elements of Classical Homeschooling. She has put so much work into it and it is fantastic. In the introductory lesson, she asks participants what their metaphor for education is.

A metaphor is “a thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else, especially something abstract.” (The etymology of ‘metaphor’ is pretty awesome, too.) So, thinking about a thing that represents something huge like Education is pretty daunting.  I’d heard this question before, at the Cincinnati Homeschool Convention, from Andrew Kern, so I wasn’t totally thrown by it, but was unsure where to go with it.

One morning,while still in that not quite asleep, not quite awake stage, I started dreaming about a jigsaw puzzle.

Photo credit: kevin dooley via VisualHunt / CC BY

Eureka! I didn’t cry.

Everyone else was still asleep.

Knowledge is shattered. Fractured. Fragmented. It was cohesive, it now looks so disparate, scattered, even unlike itself from area to area that many assume it is a multiplicity. Every metaphor breaks down at some point and this one is here: we don’t have the box top – only God does, but we do have some directions. The puzzle is infinite, so there aren’t really edges, this definitely adds to the complexity. But, otherwise, I think the metaphor holds up.

In education, we sort the ideas by our senses. We specialize in some areas of the puzzle or some types of pieces. We look at the ideas we’ve encountered and put them into as cohesive a whole as we can. Sometimes some ideas are already joined up and we’re pleased by that. We pick up ideas that look like they fit perfectly with others – and they do! Euphoria. We pick up pieces we know will fit – and they don’t! Frustration.

There’s a sense that must we study, observe, Attend! the pieces already placed. We have to see not just the empty spot, but the detail of the area surrounding it help us find the right piece or turn it the right direction.

Often, a piece that fits in another area is in our’s and we know this because we communicate with one another. There are times when we see just how a piece will fit and we hand it on with instruction as to how. All of us are working for the same goal. (I know this is totally idealized, we don’t always accept that instruction so graciously, do we? I don’t.)

Sometimes, pieces fall of the table and someone sits on them. Those are the last ones we place.

We laugh and chatter about our work and about our lives. We move from one section of knowledge to another, and stand on the shoulders on of those who worked there before us. We use our experience, to choose better pieces to place.

The puzzle is best, most pleasantly accomplished, within loving community: laughing, encouraging, helping, sharing, giving, taking. Education is individuals working together in wisdom and love toward the cohesive goal of a clear vision.

Unlike our 1000 piece puzzle, the puzzle of the shattered creation will never be a cohesive whole during our generation or any generation until Christ returns. It isn’t an exercise in futility for, Lord willing, we leave the picture more filled in for the coming generation.

Yes. Clearly, this is an incomplete metaphor, but a good working start. Do you have puzzle pieces to add for me?


  1. That's a really good metaphor. I wouldn't have thought of it that way myself, but I like it. I love the way it's such a big thing that it involves a lot of fellowship.

    I'll have to think about my own metaphor — I think mine might be something like a journey.

  2. This is great, Dawn. I laughed out loud at: "Sometimes, pieces fall off the table and someone sits on them." 😀

  3. Dawn, this is wonderful.I love the integration of humanity with the process of knowledge. What a remarkable concept!

  4. This is splendid!!! I've often thought about education as a fresco- beautiful pieces that sometimes seem shattered but together, form an even more beautiful piece. The artist (God) knows what the end results of the pieces will become.

    1. Oh, I'm so glad you like it. I like the classicalness of the fresco idea, too. Too bad we can't have fresco jigsaw puzzles 🙂

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