Lessons from 9/11 nearly two decades later
Monday, September 11, 2017
Today marks the 16th anniversary of one of the largest international terrorist attacks in history, a series of four coordinated attacks against the United States that killed more than 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001. On that date, life as we know it changed forever.
The attacks ushered in a new era of war — the war on terrorism. In a statement the next day, President George W. Bush stated, "Freedom and democracy are under attack." In the days that followed, Bush addressed a joint session of Congress, talking about how America and the world would respond: "Our war on terror begins with al-Qaida, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated."
Since then, that war has impacted all fronts, including diplomatic, economic, intelligence, law enforcement and the military.
On Sept. 11, 2001, I was four days into my first year of teaching at a large public Massachusetts high school. As the events of the day unfolded, and in the days that followed, my students and I were glued to the television, watching as history unfolded right in front of our eyes.
It was difficult to watch the event live, especially on that first day. We saw things that have probably not been broadcast again since that date. As we all watched, we were quickly coming to terms with what would become our new reality and define our future.
This was true for children of all ages in classrooms across the country. In the days, weeks, months and years that followed, teachers worked with children to help them make sense of those tragic live television images that had become emblazoned in their minds.
For students in schools today, the tragic events of 9/11 are before their time, an important history lesson about how their current reality growing up during the age of the war on terrorism — the only reality they have ever known — came to be. My 12-year-old son Brady was particularly moved this summer when we visited the Empty Sky Memorial at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey.
As we stood in front of the memorial and looked at the New York City skyline behind it, I watched as history came alive for my son. In the weeks that followed, my son took it upon himself to write a letter to Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) to see what could be done to designate Sept. 11 as a holiday to bring about a greater sense of observance for a day and an event that has transformed America.
Today, many teachers grapple with how to help students learn from the tragic events of 2001. In this Scholastic teaching blog, elementary teacher Alycia Zimmermann writes, "Teaching my third-graders about Sept. 11 makes me a little uncomfortable. My students weren't even born in 2001, and this historic tragedy just doesn't seem all that relevant to their lives." Zimmermann goes on to talk about how she developed a unique lesson for her students that allows them to explore and celebrate modern-day community heroes.
The Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility's Tom Roderick has developed a resource guide for this very purpose. Roderick's advice to educators is to use 9/11 as a "teachable moment" for students. Roderick goes on to say, "Part of our mission as educators in a democratic society is to correct misinformation, facilitate thoughtful discussion and develop our students' ability to think critically, which includes asking good questions. If we don't do this, who will?"
Roderick's lessons are organized by age groups, covering all ages K-12. Prior to using them, teachers are encouraged to review the guide's resources for educators on teaching controversial issues in the classroom.
The 9/11 Memorial and Museum website also offers educators a variety of resources and lesson plans for children of all ages. Activities on this site were developed in conjunction with the New York City Department of Education and the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education.
Our job today as educators is to teach our children about 9/11 in a way that will empower them as adults to lead a society that can eliminate terrorism for all in our world. The task seems grand, but it starts by raising awareness and changing young minds, one child at a time.
The memory of the lives lost on that tragic day will live on as we all fight for this united cause.
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