Note: The following essay was submitted in draft form for a collection to which I was invited to contribute called “Letters to the Field” (of curriculum studies). The call was in 2021, and the theme of the book was to be reflections on the dumpster fire that was the year 2020. Each piece was to be handwritten in the author’s preferred style and format. The book may be in production. If so, here’s what my entry will be. If not, here’s what it would have been. Enjoy.
I hope you are well. As I write, we are mid-way through 2021, which seems incredible. Time has been “out of joint” since March 2020. I sat in my office and watch seasons pass; each time I stepped outside, I was stepping into a different season. It was nearly a year and a half before I traveled to see my family, and I still have not seen my grandchildren. How did I fare? Well, I’m introverted, so for a long while, the virtual/remote situation was ideal. Like most everyone, I enjoyed pajama Zooms and working at my own pace. After 15 months, I found myself searching for webinars to join during the day, just to feel plugged in professionally. This was most unusual for me. And you? I noticed several calls for works about Covid and race in the U.S. I see that your various conferences made valiant virtual attempts as did others. I suppose, then, it was not an ideal situation for most of us.
Truthfully, I was a spectator to the last two years. Being at home made it easy to self-isolate. And I did not write a word about either pandemic–Covid 19 or Black Lives. I’ve thought about why not. During 2020 I was finishing a Master of Divinity degree from seminary. From March 2020 to March 2021, I followed nothing but Covid until I got my vaccines. I tracked the death toll. In late spring and summer, I watched cities burn as we paid a collective price for the sin of racism. It was also an election year–after 4 years of having Donald J. Trump as the U.S. president. I watched as a dispicable, weak, narcissistic emperor with no clothes attempted a coup–aided and abetted by dispicable, weak, narcissistic congressional and state legislative sycophants.On January 6, I watched, jaw dropped, the coup attempt unfold, when the U.S. Capitol was stormed on live tv as Congress was about to certify the election results anyway. I was weary and suffering from media overload. I tuned in and cried on an Inauguration Day, which was blessedly uneventful.
I cried two other times in 2020. Both took place the first weekend I visited my parents in over a year. We were sitting around having coffee when my daddy–dismissing Mother’s cautioning against it–brought up politics. It’s important to him that we find common ground in his conservative worldview. “The US isn’t a democracy any more. We’re somewhere in the middle of Socialism and Communism.” Now, I’m not going to unpack any of that or sort out the concepts. I replied as long as we have free elections, we have something of a Republic still. Then my mom drove home the point. She said the election was rigged. That was it. I had a meltdown, which I won’t describe, other than to say I began to cry. The conversation, thankfully, ended. Daddy moved on.
The following day, Sunday, I was moved to tears again; however, the context and feeling were entirely different. My parent’s church, the one I grew up in, was still distancing for Covid. A handful went inside the building, yet there was still a “drive-in” option in the parking lot. The Elders had purchased a transmitter, and people were directed to tune their radios to 92.5, where they could hear the service. The rest of my family worshipped inside, but I, now feeling like a full-fledged outsider, changed my dial. Daddy gave the welcome and announcement, and I smiled as his voice came from my car’s speakers. Then the congregation turned in their hymnals to the opening song. Then the old, familiar hymns began, songs for which I did not need a song book. I knew all the verses of all the songs. Then the contentment and peace that comes from losing oneself in music came over me. I didn’t care how I might have looked to those driving in or driving by.
I am sure you’ve received plenty of letters i that are emphatic about our field never having been as relevant and necessary (!) as it is now. We are poised, they will say, to address the contexts of the Age of Pandemics. I know this because at every crisis point since Curriculum Theory has existed, we have made those proclamations. And we are not wrong. Yet, here we are again. So, Field, what are your intentions? I’m reading over my stories above, and have a “more things change more they stay the same” moment. In the years that I’ve worked as an administrator and stepped back from curriculum theory writing, convictions of white Southerners (whites everywhere?) have deepened. As time has passed, the difference is that now they are sanctioned by politicians who court them as their voting base. The implications of radical conservative politics ranges promoting the Big Lie of voter fraud to the All Lives Matter refrain to righteous, nationalistic indignation at being directed to wear a mask to prevent the spread of a highly contaigous and deadly disease. This week, parents are protesting our local school district because a white school board member sent them a video link that features a video with the “real truth” about masks: they don’t work (and neither does the vaccine). The danger, then, of curriculum studies of Southern place is more discernable for me. But so is the necessity of doing it.
Don’t I have anything positive to contribute in terms of being central to the present moment? Same old, same old, I guess. I will continue going to the conferences and publishing in the journals. After all, we have to put our work somewhere. At those conferences, we will continue to look for ways to put our theorizing into activism. I suspect we will write very sternly worded letters and post them on our websites. We will do what we can to advance the field so that there is a place to post the letters. Mostly, we will tell ourselves that ours is the New Fresh Next Voice that will change the world and make it more equitable and inclusive. Why so negative, you ask. I suppose it’s because we’ve been telling ourselves this for all these years. Truth is, I stepped back for 6 years in part because I could not see that I was making any difference with you, dear Field. The biggest difference has been in me. I am changed from the writing and from the politics and social untethering. I am changed by COVID-19. Administration has changed me and so has studying for the ministry. I’m older, more seasoned, and yes, resigned to the way the world keeps turning.
Writing curriculum theory is not so unlike studying for ministry in that both look for ways to connect with the human spirit in a world that cares very little for the spirit. So in the end, the real question for me is not whether there is a place for my curriculum theory at your table but rather for your table in my curriculum theory. Really, it’s not me it’s you.
And that, in the end, is what my divine nudger whispers to me.