An Alternative Curriculum: A Revised Syllabus

I have been thinking about the world, I mean, we all should be.  Something is happening. A huge shift of energy. For me, I try not to call It by name, you know, to give it power in my mouth.  I know it is real. I am not in denial, but I’m managing, as we all must, each in our own way.

I have felt this shift coming.  I used to manage my own stocks, read prospectus that Vanguard and Fidelity sent and try to pick the ones that would create the biggest return on investment.  I had learned the relevance and meaning of investments as an invisible secretary at Vanderbilt University, taking minutes for the Investment committee meeting. I heard words that I had never heard before – asset allocation, asset mix, risk, REITS, real estate stocks, bonds.  They were all words for the minutes, until one day it hit me.  The meeting was about money and how to make money.  This was in the 1990s, when the stock market was beginning to blossom and bloom, and if you had smart men — they were always men – managing your money at the university, or in these funds, you made money.

And so, I decided to become a smart man.  I read the prospectus, I choose my stocks and bonds and portfolio of investments. I assessed risk and return, and I read the statements quarterly.  I thought about diversifying my portfolio – some international, some technology, some healthcare, some energy.  Some small, medium, large companies.  And, I was satisfied that as a woman, I was managing my money.

And then, over time, I stopped managing it.  Life became busy and it wasn’t a priority. From time to time, more randomly and obscurely, I would notice the Dow Jones Industrial Index seemed really high.  I mean, very high.  And it would quietly occur to me, this is not normal.  And then, I would go on with my life.  I remember being told that investments are for the long run.  You have peaks and valleys, and you just stay the course, and you’ll probably be alright.

And, then, this season happened.  Seemingly, abruptly, startling, and sudden.  Yet, I think it was simmering.  A slow boil, as water does before it pops off the lid of a teapot.  Something was happening in the universe.  An odd energy of accumulation of wealth for some, the stock market rising and its inevitable fall, of the decimation of the environment, of a carelessness about the earth and life, of a disregard for the universe.

Some wise sages tried to put us in check. Greta Thunberg was sounding an alarm. We thought it was just a little girl worried about the climate.  She was, but it represented so much more.  She felt it.  The world was out of order.

Native Americans were sounding the alarm. Their protests were getting louder. They understand the land and the environment. They cherish it and love it.  Logging and pipelines were threatening not just their livelihood and lives, but the world’s life.

The forest fires happened in Australia. Drought happened in the west.  Hurricanes happened in the Caribbean. Earthquakes happened in unexpected lands. Even the mountains were groaning.

Bell Rock, Sedona

Shifts were happening. We did not wake up.

And the artists spoke, for they always speak, attuned to the shifts from the pulse of their souls — the dancers, the painters, the poets, the musicians. They speak in a language that most of us cannot hear, for we do not create the time and space needed to reflect on the message sent in a language we do not value.

Art by Emmanuel Pratt-Clarke

We did not listen. The cacophony of the world was so loud, we could not, did not want to hear the silent whisper of the wind of change. And so, one day, those of the future who are not yet here, will have to tell a story about this time when we all had to go inside to hear.

 One day, there will be a new creation story about this season.  Each culture, in their own traditions, will tell a similar tale of the day the world had to stop, when people had to go indoors, when planes ceased to fly and trains ceased to run on tracks.  They will tell the story of how children could not go to school, of how some kind teachers and principals would drive into the neighborhoods of children to let them know they were not forgotten, of how parents who could not teach their own children and who often happily sent their often rude and misbehaving children to teachers suddenly gained new appreciation and compassion for the chaos their children were causing in school when they could not control them in their own homes or teach them. How the poorest of the poor had to still go to work in face of harm and how others could stay home and yet still complain as they were still receiving paychecks and others were home with no money, no longer able to cook, to clean, to barber and beauty others.

In this story, generations from now, it will be talked about how colleges sent students home to learn through a computer and to zoom, and that generation far into the future will wonder what zoom was, though zoom will be all this generation knows.  And, that generation in the future will wonder why students were still expected to learn chemistry, physics, biology, humanity, arts, engineering, science, architecture, on their own, without labs, without brushes, without friends, without conversations. They will wonder why we still spoke about quality and credit, when the teachers themselves did not know how to teach online. They will wonder, in the future, why the little kids in kindergarten to the big kids in college, didn’t learn an alternative curriculum in the hiatus from the buildings.  They will wonder – those of the future who are sharing the creation story –why we of the now didn’t teach an alternative curriculum in this season.

It could be an alternative curriculum about life and what really matters.  For many of us have had to face our lives in new and different ways.  We have had to look at children we raised well or we didn’t who are now in our homes.  We have had to look at mates that we once loved and laughed with and now are not so sure.  We will have to look through windows at loved ones in nursing homes and assisted living facilities wondering how or when we can touch their hands and hug them.  We will have to accept that loved ones are dying without funerals, surreptitiously buried or cremated without fanfare or ceremony, lives becoming dust without acknowledgment. We will have to birth our children alone, without our mothers at our side. We will get married without an audience of hundreds, celebrating our joy, sometimes jealously yearning for a moment so long ago in their own lives where they felt the excitement of a wedding and a promise for a happily ever after. We will have to comfort children who will miss proms, senior year trips, graduations. We will have to learn how to live and die differently.

What is an alternative curriculum?  It could be, perhaps a curriculum about energy and how it manifests differently in the world.  Not a physics class, per se, but a spirit class. A class about the spiritual energy in the world and its power. The energy of emotions and how they work.  The energy of love, sacrifice, and kindness contrasted against the energy of greed, hate, and selfishness.  We could talk about the energy of the forest and the air and of breath and flowers.  We could talk about life-giving energy of birth and renewal. We could talk about seasons and times of change; of leaves changing the fall, dying in the winter, and then being born again in the spring and dancing in the summer. We could teach about how caterpillars have to become silent to shift and transform to butterflies. We — most of us — would have to teach ourselves, first, to teach others. We — most of us — became very comfortable — rushing, running, texting, emailing, technologing, dropping kids off here and there, exhausted, without a sense of purpose or meaning. We, the teachers, cannot teach what we do not know. Perhaps it is we, not the children, that need a new syllabus for our lives.

Art by Watechia Lawless

We could talk about how to get along with people who are very different than us, even in our own family.  We could talk about our pain in our families and our joys. We could actually look our family members in the eye and say I love you, even if you are ……..  We could call our friends that we were always too busy to check on and actually check in on them.  We could teach our children that political parties, donkeys and elephants—don’t really matter, that there are core values that we should always vote for and they never change. Core values of love, kindness, generosity of spirit, gentleness, loyalty, self-control, forbearance.

We could teach about how to hear…the whisper of the wind; the tears of pain and sorrow; the subtlety of oppression; the touch of love; the gentleness of a smile. Perhaps we could teach about how to listen, how to breath, how to hear in the humility and humbleness of humanity.

 What will the creation story be from this time? May we create an alternative curriculum that plants the seeds for the new season that will be.

Photo by Menah Pratt-Clarke on Virginia Tech’s campus

4 thoughts on “An Alternative Curriculum: A Revised Syllabus”

  1. Menah, all I can say is, “This right here!” This is it! Thank you for putting into words what so many of us know to be true. You speak like a Sangoma, Sawubona!!!

  2. WOW- this is a beautiful expression how many are feeling but may not have the word to articulate those feelings. I truly appreciate the spirit that you choose to share with the world. Your brilliant and tender perspective is what so many of us need.

    Peace and Love my friend.

  3. Very deep perspective, observation on the changing of our world; and the changing of our world; as we know it to
    be. We must go forward. Our world has changed. Over night.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *