Teaching Terror: Putting 9-11 in Perspective for Primary Students
*Adapted from an original post in 2013.
Five years ago on the 10th anniversary, I finally realized what my purpose should be when teaching this tragedy to the future youth of America. The phrase “We Will Never Forget” has a lot of meanings and is a popular one for sure, but what does that really mean? In one way it is literal, we will always remember the images, feelings, and our personal stories from that day. But what does my story teach a 5 year old? When I thought about this, I realized that sad as it is, we have already forgotten. My story is a common one. I was in college, got a phone call early in the morning, put on the news and then watched in horror, barely believing my eyes. But, within two hours, 20 of us that lived on a hall had decided to go donate blood to help out. We went to a local hospital within walking distance. When we got there, it was so packed with people hoping to donate that the hospital closed a section to create a makeshift blood bank. So many people wanting to help was amazing. As days went on there were many stories about the heroic first responders, the heroes on Flight 93, people volunteering to dig through debris or help look for loved ones, and of course countless others like mine. Also, people felt a pride in being American that I had never seen and I can only guess hasn’t been shown since at best, the Cold War. Politicians worked together to get necessary things done, people were generally responsive to the needs of others, and Americans banded together from one coast to the other. In short, the attacks had the exact opposite result that their perpetrators had intended. We were stronger, more unified, and more caring for one another than ever before.
Those are the lessons that we should teach our young children: lessons of caring for each other, volunteering, and pride in the amazing nation we call the United States of America.
Fast forward 15 years and sadly it seems many of those lessons about the value of community and our great nation have dissipated. That short era of caring, community and cooperation has all but evaporated for every day life for many Americans. So as a teacher, a parent, and a member of the generation for whom 9-11 was a benchmark moment, I feel responsible for imparting on my young students those messages.
When I think of how I can best honor those who gave their lives and fight back against that kind of horrible terrorist action, the best way I can think of is to teach these children how amazing it was to be an American in the days and weeks following that horrible event. My goal every 9-11 is to try and instill my classes with a sense of hope, community, an understanding of what American spirit ought to be, to ensure that not only will we never forget, but that as a nation, our future Americans will develop in such a way that defies the terror and embraces the great potential of the people of this country.