Curriculum Studies in the Age of Covid-19

Stories of the Unbearable

by Marla Morris (Author)
©2022 Textbook X, 232 Pages
Series: Education and Struggle, Volume 24


To think through history as it unfolds by engaging in “unbearable story-telling” is the task at hand in Curriculum Studies in the Age of Covid-19. The author documents stories of Covid-19 both from the perspective of a university professor and from the frontlines as a hospital chaplain, interweaving autobiography with philosophy, fiction, theology, history, and memory, in order to articulate what is beyond language and develop an archive. The archive is not only about the past but how future generations will understand the past. This book might be of interest to educationists, curriculum studies scholars, philosophers, theologians, literary scholars, historians, medical anthropologists, bioethicists, health humanities scholars, and hospital chaplains as well as palliative care physicians and psychoanalysts.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction: Metaphors of the Desert: A Curriculum of Crisis
  • 1 Clinical Narratives and Stultification
  • 2 Speculative Fabulation and Unbearable Stories
  • 3 Jacques Derrida’s Concepts: Metaphors for Unbearable Stories
  • 4 Thomas Merton’s Crisis of The Unspeakable
  • 5 The Unbearable Stories of Terry Tempest Williams, Joan Didion and Derrick Jensen
  • 6 The Unbearable Stories of Anton Boisen, Louise DeSalvo and John Gunther
  • 7 Albert Camus’ Relevance for Unbearable Stories of the Covid Pandemic
  • 8 Michel Serres’ Relevance for Unbearable Stories of the Covid Pandemic
  • References
  • Index

←viii | 1→


Introduction: Metaphors of the Desert: A Curriculum of Crisis

Palm Springs is situated in the middle of a vast orange desert. It is as if one is walking into the Sahara. But this is not the Sahara. The Sahara is in Africa. Palm Springs is in California. This is the desert in Palm Springs, California. Nearby, The Joshua Tree National Park winds around and around a ghostly, forbidding moonlike landscape—or moonscape. There is something strange about this place. On a National Government Park website The Joshua Tree description reads: “Two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together in Joshua Tree National Park.... a land sculpted by strong winds and occasional torrents of rain.... [with] surreal geological features” (nps.gov, May 22, 2019 author unknown). Surreal, indeed. What comes to mind as well is the rock band U2 whose album called The Joshua Tree influenced many musicians of my generation. Valentina Magli (March 6, 2017), who connects U2’s album to the spiritual aspect of the Joshua Tree in Palm Springs remarks: “The [Joshua Tree] was named by early Mormon Settlers, after the Old Testament [sic, Hebrew Scriptures] prophet Joshua, as its branches reminded them of Joshua raising his arms to pray” (Hotpress.com, March 6, 2017). From Palm Springs to the Joshua Tree National Park—reminiscent of a Sci-Fi film—postmodern windmills dot a moonlike backdrop.

←1 |

My partner Mary Doll and I joined my PhD advisor—William F. Pinar with his partner Jeff Turner—in Palm Springs for a New Year’s Celebration. This was a vacation that was supposed to be joyous. And it was. Yet, in waves, I was hit by grief. I began walking through Palm Springs by myself when memories of horrible things—seemingly out of nowhere—struck me while reminiscing about San Diego. I lived in San Diego from 1978 to 1980. Those were my last two years of high school. Grief overtook me. Out of nowhere I became overwhelmed by the memories of the death of a friend from Escondido and the more recent the death of my mother. I broke down looking up at the Palm Trees against the orange sky of the desert, unbeknownst to anyone. A long rush of ancient unfelt emotions hit me like a boulder.

Thomas Merton (1981) writes: “mysticism is born of a theological crisis” (p. 107).

Although this was not a mystical or theological crisis, breaking down in the middle of the street was an existential crisis.

Thomas Merton’s (1981) words—and my existential crisis—began the long journey of writing this book. For me, the urgency of writing is akin to crisis; this book was “born” in crisis. A crisis is always already ecological as it is an attempt to heal what is long broken. Compounded grief—coping with the loss of a friend and my mother—had arrived at a very strange time, belatedly. Perhaps it arrived too late. There are deaths that do not heal over. Memories of death(s)—from years past—get buried in the ashes of repression. The strange moonscape backdrop of Palm Springs and visiting the Joshua Tree National Park brought unrelenting grief.

I was stunned at my own crushed psyche while walking through Palm Springs. Perhaps there is a relation between walking, thinking and repressed memory rising. Grief welled up out of nowhere. Clock-Time, as I call it, does not exist in the flow that is memory.

It seems odd that it was the landscape that evoked distant and painful memories; memories of death emerge when they want to—not when one is ready, psychologically, to remember. That desert landscape—forbidding and barren—became the place where I had to face what I could not. Against the backdrop of that Sahara-like sky, Terry Tempest Williams’ (2001) words came to mind: “I am desert. I am mountains. I am Great Salt Lake. There are other languages spoken by the wind, water, and wings” (p. 29). Although the Great Salt Lake and Palm Springs are vastly different, Terry Tempest Williams’ words spoke to me. It is not insignificant that Williams grew up in a Mormon family. Mormons initially ←2 | 3→named that place in Palm Springs (where I found myself in psychic disarray) The Joshua Tree. Williams’ words resonate with the landscape of the desert.

It is not lost on me that all the women in Williams’ family died of cancer. It is not lost on me that Williams’ mother died of ovarian cancer. I almost died of ovarian cancer in 2016. When the surgeon sat down next to my hospital bed and said the words ovarian cancer, I forgot that I had ever read Terry Tempest Williams. I had no idea what ovarian cancer meant, even though I taught Williams’ (2001) Refuge many times. All I heard was the word cancer. I heard nothing else. Everything went blank.

Currere—the Latin root of curriculum—is key to William F. Pinar’s reconceptualization of curriculum studies, a paradigm shift in the history of curriculum as a field. Currere suggests looking within but it also points to the socio-political. Currere is about one’s relationship to oneself, to others, to the land, to the larger ecosphere. For me, currere is a deeply ecological concept. For me, currere is also a deeply theological concept. Currere—as a concept—is not incompatible with the theological, or the spiritual.

Currere as a lived concept was enacted, for me, as a deeply eco-theological crisis in the face of memory and death. Currere—for Pinar—has relations to Edmund Husserl’s notion of lebenswelt –or lived experience. The life-world is also about death. Currere, thereby is not only one’s relation to lived experience, but it is also one’s relationship to death, especially one’s aversion to death. Currere is about one’s relationship to the divine as well as one’s aversion to the divine. Currere is related to that which is numinous, to that which is holy, as Rudolph Otto (1958) put it. The holy—as numinous—is not light; the holy means holy terror.

Many who have suffered the horrors of cancer say: There was the time before cancer; there is the time after cancer. After a cancer diagnosis, everything that came before is somehow blurred, lost, or repressed. Cancer is the shadow of the object. Perhaps it was the cancer diagnosis in 2016 that put on hold—for me—the mourning of my friend and my mother. A part of me died in 2016 when the bad news was delivered. Part of my memory just fell off of a cliff. But memory has a way of catching up with you. My “theological crisis” (Merton, 1981, p. 107)—the return of the repressed—compounded the holy terror of death.

This book is an attempt to hammer out—as Nietzsche (2008) might put it—complicated grief as a “theological crisis” (Merton, 1981, p. 107)—not just my own theological crisis or my own story of dealing with death, but the stories of others and how they cope or do not cope with death.

←3 |

As I began writing the book, the covid-19 pandemic had not yet arrived. It was, as Derrida would put it, to come. Thus the book grew into a testimony to those who lost their lives during the pandemic. What began as an autobiography grew into a biography of sorts. What began as a virus elsewhere became a virus everywhere. This horror and tragedy was not inevitable and did not have to get played out in the tragic way that it did. Nothing is pre-determined; things could have happened otherwise.

This book is an archive of the present and the past; this book is about what I call stories of the unbearable. Because there is little precedent for the stories of those lost to covid, it is difficult to know how to navigate through this tragedy. I am not a historian, nor am I an archivist. I examine—throughout—unbearable stories in the form of biography—as I interweave my own autobiography—with memoirs of those who have suffered horrors that are not unrelated to covid but that are not directly about covid. One must begin somewhere. But the problem is, is that there is no place to begin—because this pandemic is unlike any other. Thus, I begin with unbearable stories that are tangentially related to what it is that families (who have lost loved ones to covid) are currently suffering through. This might be a problematic approach because stories of illness and death should not be compared.

So where do I begin? That is a political, philosophical, theological and curricular question. Although my approach might be problematic, I begin where I can best make connections to our current crisis, that is, covid-19. The task is to archive covid as it is unfolding in the present, because once unfolding memories are gone, history becomes stultified. Memories—of this horror—will fade over time.

The question of what history is, is also problematic. When does history begin? Is an unfolding present history? When does history become history? Does the present moment count as history? The minutes that slip by are indeed always already history. I did not want to wait until the pandemic was over to write this. I wanted to archive what I could in the now so that in the future these words will be marked by their closeness in time to this event: these words give us something to hold onto.

Although the 1918 flu epidemic has been well documented, especially in the medical literature, not many people lived long enough to tell their stories—from a first-person perspective. Perhaps medical anthropologists will make connections between the 1918 flu epidemic and the current covid crisis; but at this historical juncture it is, perhaps, still too early to tell what connections can or cannot be made.

←4 |

Through the intersection of curriculum theory, politics, theology and philosophy of education, this book is an attempt to confront the real, as painful as that may be. I navigate the complexities of curriculum theory, philosophy, politics and theology as both a professor of education and as a hospital chaplain—with boots on the ground—wading through the muck that is Covid-19. Thus, I am approaching the pandemic from several different angles. Theory and praxis, here go hand-in-glove. As a university professor I have witnessed the politicization that is covid as a tragic affair; professors (and school teachers) are dying, college students are vanishing, and now school children are getting sick, some dying. The lack of accountability on the part of politicians and university administrators beholden to state politics, the lack of unions especially in the Southern part of the United States, and the lax policies on masks and vaccines in both schools and universities have resulted in the needless deaths of untold numbers of people. School teachers and university professors—who are not unionized—have little power to rise up against state institutions that do not follow or respect science. Power—is not merely a concept—it is real. The lack of power—that most professors and teachers have experienced—has become, in fact, a deadly game. Go to work and risk life. Quit and risk bankruptcy and/or the loss of a career. Marx once remarked, in response to the theoretical writings of Feuerbach the 19th-century theologian, that it is not enough to write about the world, one must change the world. But can writing about the world really change the world? Can writing about the world change some piece of the world? Only time will tell.

I am writing this with the aim of changing the world. I am writing this book because it is my duty and responsibility—as both an academic and hospital chaplain—to archive this crisis. It is the archive that matters in the end. The archive is not static; it is an ever-moving process, an endless stream of disruptions, interruptions, confusions and moments of despair. This book was written in a stream of confusion: because that is how history is lived.

In 2018, two years after my cancer diagnosis I entered a program called Clinical Pastoral Education (known as CPE) at Memorial University Medical Center Hospital in Savannah, Georgia. This chaplaincy program is under the auspices of the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy (known as CPSP); it is rooted in psychodynamic psychoanalysis. CPSP is not primarily religious in nature. In fact, religion has very little to do with my work as a chaplain. CPSP chaplaincy is not about checklists or standardized jargon. Hospital administrators, however, prefer standardized clinical narratives. However, CPSP fights these trends. CPSP is one of the few chaplaincy programs that is in sync with my work as an academic, as a curriculum theorist. The form of chaplaincy in which ←5 | 6→I am engaged dovetails Pinar’s reconceptualization. Chaplaincy is both a theoretical and clinical field.


X, 232
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (July)
stories unbearable Covid-19 curriculum philosophy theology politics memory history chaplaincy education archives Curriculum Studies in the Age of Covid-19 Stories of the Unbearable Marla Morris
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2022. X, 232 pp.

Biographical notes

Marla Morris (Author)

Marla Morris received her PhD in education from Louisiana State University and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. Morris is Professor of Education at Georgia Southern University, College of Education, in Statesboro, Georgia. Morris' select publications include Curriculum Studies Guidebooks: Concepts and Theoretical Frameworks, Vols. 1 & 2 (Peter Lang, 2016); On Not Being Able to Play: Scholars, Musicians and the Crisis of Psyche (2009); Teaching Through the Ill Body: A Spiritual and Aesthetic Approach to Pedagogy and Illness (2008); Jewish Intellectuals and the University (2006); and Curriculum and the Holocaust: Competing Sites of Memory and Representation.


Title: Curriculum Studies in the Age of Covid-19
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244 pages