The Challenge Of Teaching 9/11


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?

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Photo Credit: iStock


Christina B.
Christina B6 years ago

Ameer T., you've said everything I wanted to say and more!

Christina B.
Christina B6 years ago

"interactive exercises like having students map global terrorist activity with Google Earth software" ---> What a HORRIBLE idea!

"We owe it to our students to make sure that they hear the facts of that day correctly" --> But what are these facts? I firmly believe that the truth behind the events of 9/11 is still out there, albeit hidden by the Powers to Be. If it will ever be revealed, only time will tell.

As far as education in the US is concerned in general, please take a moment to watch this video.

I don't know if I should laugh or bang my head against the wall....

Ann G.
Ann G6 years ago

I am learning about it and my teacher is treating it exactly right- going into the politics but showing both sides so it's fair.

David L.
David Laing6 years ago

The best lessons for our children and ourselves to learn about 9/11 can be found on the website of Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth:

Tom Dundee
Tom Dundee6 years ago

The teaching of Love, Tolerance, and Acceptance is fine. However, other things need to be taught when people start killing you.

Robert O.
Robert O6 years ago

That's definitely a difficult lesson to teach children one that can't be taught unless they are first taught the importance of love and acceptance of others and the dangers of bigotry and intolerance. Thanks Judy! :)

Sonya Armenia Redfield


Chris Ray
Chris R6 years ago

Thanks Judy!~

Bruce V.

One thing to teach is there is nothing gained by continuing hatred and bigotry for the justification of war.

Ameer T.
Ameer T6 years ago

I hope the kids who are taught this dont grow up to learn physics, chemistry or math. the 9/11 theory defies all science out right. it should probably be taught to student of politcal propaganda and how to con a nation into believing something that never was. Or it can be taught to toddlers alongwith the santa clause and the tooth fairy stories before they wise up.

But really what will you want to teach them? Will you also teach them that America subsequenty attacked three countries and killed children just like you without discrimination? That 10 years of war led to another unrecognized holocaust albeit Muslim? or would you tell them how America attacks countries without proper evidence or reason to attack and then begin at vietnam from recent history.

It is good that children are taught about this. they should know why they are hated by the rest of the world or if some other dominant culture or country attacks them with even less reason and evidence in future when someone other than the US comes to power and US has collapsed under its debt ceiling.