I’ve been steeling myself all week for the articles that will be published on Friday, noting the twentieth anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard. I knew Matt, although he was much younger than me. We grew up in the same church, where I remember watching him and his brother during services, teaching them in Sunday School. Matt was small then, and I moved away (and I believe his family moved away), so I never knew him as a grown man.

When Father Brown spoke at my father’s funeral a couple of years ago, he said it was one of the hardest services he’d ever led. Father Brown led the services for Matt’s funeral, and I felt sick to my stomach thinking of the comparison. I’ve strayed from the faith, I guess. My dad did too. But I think of Judy Shepard, Matt’s mom, so often, as she represents the epitome of Christian love and forgiveness. I think about what we do with loss and with trauma – what we do for ourselves and our communities.

Maybe I’ll write more about Matt. Maybe I won’t. I have been thinking this week about how he is remembered – by the LGBTQ community, by the residents of his home town, his home state. I have been thinking too about James Byrd Jr, who was murdered the same year. I don’t recall seeing any twentieth anniversary remembrances of his death this summer, even though both of their names are on the Hate Crimes Prevention Act that was signed into law by President Obama in 2009.

I have been thinking about erasure.

I didn’t expect to be jarred into thinking of another family member this morning, but I saw a friend note that a new edition of How People Learn has been released.

My dad’s cousin, Dr. Rodney Cocking, was one of the editors of the 2000 version. (I think that made Rod, who was one of my father’s best friends, my first cousin, once removed.) He was murdered in 2002 – it was no hate crime, but it was a grisly, violent death, one that shook everyone in my family (and I’d say as well in Rod’s professional circles).

I’ve long thought of How People Learn as his legacy of sorts, and I was a little sad, I confess, to see a new version without his name on the cover.

“Since HPL I was published, there has been a growing appreciation for the fundamental role that culture plays for every individual learner in every learning context, for every learning purpose,” the introduction to the new report reads. My god, I wish that there was some mention of Rod somewhere in this document. Maybe that’s selfish and unrealistic. Maybe the people at the National Research Council have forgotten; maybe they don’t want to remember.

What we know about learning, if we recognize it is bound up in culture, is that it must reflect both tradition and change. The “science of learning” wants to focus on the latter, to be sure – what’s new, what’s progressed. But the past matters.

Audrey Watters


Audrey Watters


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