Teaching 9/11: 20 years later, a fresh and painful memory is also a history lesson

Education

ADVANCE FOR PUBLICATION ON SATURDAY, AUG. 28, AND THEREAFTER – Naco Elementary School fifth graders prepare to raise the American and state flags with assistance from Cochise County Sheriff’s Deputy Bobby Zavala in Naco, Ariz., Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021. Raising the American flag and teaching children about its importance and how it should be respected is just one of the many duties the school’s first resource officer performs throughout the day at this unique place of learning, located about 700 yards from the U.S.-Mexico border. (Mark Levy/Sierra Vista Herald via AP)

(KTAL/KMSS) – Twenty years later, the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, DC remain a painfully fresh memory for many. It is also a history lesson for a younger generation that does not know a world before that sunny September morning in 2001.

While it remains unclear how consistently the events and lessons of 9/11 are taught in America’s schools, there are resources available for parents and teachers who want to make sure it is truly never forgotten.

A 2019 survey of elementary and secondary school teachers conducted by the University of Wisconsin about what is being taught about the longest-running conflict in their nation’s history – and how – found that most are teaching about the topics of 9/11 and the War on Terror at most once a month as part of their social studies curriculum, which can include U.S. History, Government/Civics, and World History.

But most often, these topics are taught on the anniversary of 9/11 with news reports, documentaries, and discussions about current events related to the attacks. According to the survey, those lessons tend to focus primarily on the events of September 11 itself, the heroes of the day, and the impact on the U.S. in the aftermath.

“Using newspaper reports from the aftermath, the students dive deep into the lives of victims in an effort to humanize the events. It really affects the kids in different ways. They pick their person off the website and really get to know that person. They find out what they were doing, where they were for the attacks. It puts everything into perspective.”

Jana Joy, U.S. History teacher at Eula High SChool near Abilene, Texas

The researchers noted that the reliance on film and news footage and other sources depicting the attacks “reflects the role these events play in recent American memory and the desire of teachers to help their students know what the events looked like. They now recognize that their present students have no memory of these attacks or how they have changed US society – which they have grown up in and been affected by.”

Still, some see a need for more balance in the lessons being taught in schools and addressing the social and cultural repercussions of the 9/11 attacks.

Amaarah DeCuir, Professorial Lecturer of Education for American University, says many Muslim students she has surveyed have experienced more bullying when the anniversary of 9/11 comes around. She suggests teaching stories of the first responders like Salman Hamdan can help balance the narratives that accompany the lessons. Sources of stories range from collections in museums to children’s storybooks and are used to connect the students and those who experienced the events.

The University of Wisconsin survey found that the topic of Islamophobia or anti-Muslim sentiments in the U.S. was included more prominently in the World History courses, suggesting that the curriculum in those courses provides opportunities to address that issue. But overall, they noted a “significant lack of including the topic of Guantanamo Bay detainees or their associated US Supreme Court cases,” suggesting that teachers may be avoiding topics that may seem more controversial, such as the invasion of Iraq and the treatment of enemy combatants, including the use of torture/enhanced interrogation by US military forces and U.S. involvement in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan.

Teachers cited a lack of resources and training, as well as fear of backlash from parents or administration. Some teachers also reported that related lessons don’t fall within state academic standards requiring testing. Others said there was not just enough time to get to twenty-first-century topics in U.S. history classes.

The U.S. Department of Education does provide materials and resources for teachers on the subject of 9/11 that include “resources for helping create and maintain a positive school climate and preventing bullying, harassment, and discrimination,” as well as lessons on “9/11 and the Constitution” that address “American Identity, Diversity, and Common Ground.”

Several non-profit organizations also offer free online curricula to teach the next generation about the events of 9/11 and how they drastically changed the course of our history.

The Memorial & Museum in New York is offering a webinar on teaching about the anniversary in schools on September 10, with interactive lesson plans broken down by grade level and theme.

PBS offers resources for 9/11 lessons here, including articles, videos, lesson plans, interactive timelines, photo slideshows, and other rich content.

The National Education Association also offers lessons and resources to help provide context for examining events before, during, and after the attacks, and the 9/11 Memorial & Museum offers virtual field trips broken down by grade level.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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