Today we have been remembering the victims of the most devastating attack on American soil in our nation’s history. Radio programs, newspapers, and television shows have been filled with people sharing memories of that day: some share memories of their loved ones who died that morning; others recount the mundane details of what they were doing at the time the planes hit. But many Americans have no memories whatsoever of September 11, 2001.
1 in 5 Americans Were Born After 9/11
One in five Americans alive today was not born when the attacks occurred. For many of them, the facts are a little hazy. And they have questions. Others may have a firm grasp of the facts but don’t feel the emotional impact of something they did not live through. As we get further and further out from the event, there will be more and more people who were not born yet in September 2011. How then do we preserve a collective memory of this tragedy? And how do we draw upon it to make a better future?
Teaching the Facts
For years after 2001, schools shied away from teaching about 9/11. But more recently, teachers have been assigning books that deal with this history and they are using the facts of 9/11 to engage their classes around questions that have relevance today. Those of us who are older sometimes forget that many young people have never known a world where they do not have to take off their shoes in security lines. More darkly, they have never known a world without war or terrorism. And they have questions about how we got to this point.
They look to the adults around them to provide context. Why were we attacked? Who attacked us? What is radical Islam? How does that differ from mainstream Islam? How does the Patriot Act square with the constitution’s protection of our civil liberties? Only through helping our youth grapple with these issues can we pass along to them the knowledge they will need to make good decisions about the world they live in.
Teaching the Emotional Implications
And what about the emotional aspect? Many teens say they understand the facts of 9/11 but don’t feel emotional about it. They don’t feel the fear of watching the towers go down, of being attacked on our own soil. Yet even if they don’t directly feel the connection, they are living right now through the continuing fear that stems from that event.
By engaging teens around the emotions of 9/11, we can help them to understand the country’s current deep divisions that are based on this fear. By providing the context and connection, we give our youth the tools to address our current problems in a positive way.
Share your ideas for teaching about 9/11