The events of September 11, 2001 are currently being analyzed, taught and commemorated in high school classrooms around the country.
But the experience of teaching 9/11 is vastly different than it was a few years ago.† More than 60 million children in America are 14 or younger, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, meaning that they have little or no memory of that day. As Jason Margolis reported on PRI’s The World, when he visited Steve Coleman’s sophomore world history class at Terra Linda High School in San Rafael, CA:
In years past, Coleman simply commemorated the events of Sept. 11th in his classroom. He says his students largely guided the discussion. But those days are pretty well gone. In another year or two, Coleman and other history teachers will have to change their approach to teaching 9/11 again when all of their students have no memories of that day.
9/11 No Longer A Lived Memory, But A Learned Memory
September 11 will no longer be a lived memory, but a learned memory. In former years, teachers didn’t have to explain what happened, because their students all knew what happened. As history teachers are discovering, that made for a very different kind of discussion, generally one that was much more heated.
Even worse, as today’s children hear about 9/11, the chances of misinformation increase.
“I heard that the terrorists came from Pakistan,” and “I’m pretty sure Saddam Hussein was the one that ordered what happened,” are two of the incorrect beliefs held by children that emerge in the Nick News video: “What happened? The true story of September 11.”
How Do Schools Handle Teaching 9/11?
Although it’s been ten years, very few states and school districts have a set curriculum for teaching September 11.
New Jersey unveiled its new curriculum this year in honor of the 10th anniversary of the attacks, a lesson plan created by families of 9/11 victims and the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education. It provides 56 lessons, starting simple and growing in complexity and maturity with each grade level. These lessons emphasize the good that came out of the tragedy for younger students and examine the history of terrorism and other complicated lessons for older students.
From The Associated Press:
In 2009, New York City schools piloted what was believed to be the first comprehensive educational plan focusing on the attacks. Created by the New Jersey-based Sept. 11 Education Trust, the curriculum has also been tested in schools in California, Alabama, Indiana, Illinois and Kansas. It uses videos and interviews about the attacks, as well as interactive exercises like having students map global terrorist activity with Google Earth software.
New York City, the nationís largest school district, announced an updated Sept. 11 curriculum this month that includes tips on how to help students cope with learning about the horrors of that day, a study of the art inspired by the terrorist attacks and a history of the building of the 9/11 memorial. The project was done in partnership with the National September 11 Memorial & Museum and a group of New York City educators.
Most States And School Districts Don’t Have A 9/11 Curriculum
But in general, states and school districts leave it up to the teacher, which can mean some students donít hear about it at all. Some teachers choose to avoid the subject altogether, either because they are concerned about how younger students will take it or because they simply are too emotional to talk about it themselves. And still others find that the discussion leads into a discussion of ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, topics that they would prefer to leave alone.
I believe that as teachers, we need to address the topic of 9/11, regardless of our misgivings. We owe it to our students to make sure that they hear the facts of that day correctly, and to help them understand, as much as we can, why these horrific events took place.
What do you think? How should teachers handle the daunting task of teaching 9/11?
Photo Credit: iStock
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