Teaching Terror: Putting 9-11 in Perspective for Primary Students

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Teaching Terror: Putting 9-11 in Perspective for Primary Students

Twelve years ago now, a horrible, terrifying event took place that will be the defining event for people of my generation. Like those before me, from Roosevelt’s death to VDay/VJday, to Kennedy and MLK, I will never forget the tragic, terrifying events that unfolded on September 11th, 2001. Like many other people the images and memories have been burned into my brain by the intensity of the emotion.  I was fortunate not to lose anyone on that day, but I know several people whose world dropped along with the steel and glass that day.  It is as important an event in American history as any our students will learn about because of how drastically it altered the landscape of the world. But ever since my first year of teaching, I have been required to teach students who were many years from being born about the significance of that day. It is difficult to imagine explaining the fear, concern, and devastation that rocked the country that day when speaking to 5 and 6 year olds the as,e way I will have to explain to my daughter one day.
Two 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 mystery 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 12 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 class with a sense of hope, community, and a little classic American Patriotism 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.

Thanks for reading.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s