Sally Reagan, a teacher at Portland High School, spends the first few sessions of her U.S. history class every year discussing the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But there was a wrinkle when she started the lessons last week.

“This year was interesting because they literally know nothing” about the attacks, she said. The juniors who take her class were infants when the attacks took place and have no memories of that day or the grief and sadness that enveloped the country for weeks after.

That emergence of a post-9/11 generation is forcing teachers all over the country to re-evaluate how and what they teach about the attacks on the country. For instance, Reagan said her students hear more about terrorism than their older brothers and sisters did, with news about attacks in the U.S. or Europe becoming unsettlingly routine. But, she said, her students now associate terrorism with ISIS, not al-Qaida. They don’t remember when a trip on the plane didn’t require a long wait in a security line, removing shoes and entering a full-body scanner.

Sally Reagan hands out papers during her history class at Portland High School. The juniors she teaches were infants when the Sept. 11 attacks took place and have no memories of that day or the flood of grief that washed over the world.

Sally Reagan hands out papers during her history class at Portland High School. The juniors she teaches were infants when the Sept. 11 attacks took place and have no memories of that day or the flood of grief that washed over the world. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“They don’t remember Osama bin Laden, actually,” she said.

Reagan said she tries to mix the straight history with a sense of the emotions that reverberated that day – including the very public displays of grief and people in front of their houses holding candles – as well as how quiet it was for days after because all the planes were grounded.

New York’s 9/11 museum takes a similar approach.

Spokesman Michael Frazier said the museum’s workshops for older children encourage discussions about balancing national security and civil liberties. Reagan said she, too, encourages students to think about the long-term impact of the attacks, but she said that 9/11 has become history and is only a current event in terms of some of its repercussions. Like a previous generation learned about the attacks on Pearl Harbor, she said, it’s difficult to relate how it feels when the world shifts under everyone’s feet.

One of Reagan’s students, Morgan Kierstead, 16, said she knows, on an intellectual level, that the country and the world changed on that day, but said there’s a difference between grasping that idea and feeling it happen.

“We don’t have memories (of the day) and all we hear is what other people think,” she said, “so it’s hard to understand.”

TERRORISM ‘IS PERTINENT TO THEM NOW’

Another student, A.J. Smaha, 17, said he gets the sense that, to him, relating this year’s Orlando nightclub massacre to his younger siblings or children will be like his parents telling him about 9/11. There’s a big difference, he said, between living through an event and a more sterile retelling of it years later.

“When any of us have children, they won’t feel the same way we do about it,” he said.

Another student, Ochan Ogak, 17, said he and his family were in what is now South Sudan on Sept. 11, 2001, so even his parents don’t have memories they can relate of the impact of the day’s events. But he said the attacks still affected them, with his father hearing nasty comments about being a Muslim, even though his family is Christian.

Ochan Ogak, left and Tasha Tracy, both juniors in Sally Reagan's Modern US and World History class at Portland High School, pay attention as the class discusses terrorism on Thursday, Sept. 8. (Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer)

Ochan Ogak, left and Tasha Tracy, both juniors in Sally Reagan’s Modern US and World History class at Portland High School, pay attention as the class discusses terrorism on Thursday, Sept. 8. (Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer)

Reagan said she teaches her students what terrorism is – Thursday’s class included 10 different fictional scenarios and discussions of whether the events described were terrorism or “just” violence that didn’t have a political aim behind them.

“I want them to start with things that are pertinent now. So I want them to start with terrorism, which, unfortunately is pertinent to them now,” she said.

She showed the class an infographic with circles that depicted the death tolls from various acts of terrorism, from relatively small circles for “the troubles” in Northern Ireland during the 1970s to a larger circle depicting the 168 killed in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. The circle for the nearly 3,000 who died in the 9/11 attacks is so big that the bottom half was cut off in the display she put up on a classroom screen.

The students are told that two of the hijackers spent the night of Sept. 10, 2001, at the Comfort Inn in South Portland, a short distance from the Maine Mall, and they flew out of the Portland airport on Sept. 11.

“That really pulls them in,” Reagan said.

LACKING DATA ‘ABOUT WHAT CAME BEFORE’

She also tries to explain the ripple effects of the attacks, telling her students about a friend who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, the financial services firm, in Boston who learned that day that nearly two-thirds of the company’s workforce had died in the company’s headquarters in one of the World Trade Center towers, and about the memorial at Ground Zero in Manhattan “and whether it’s appropriate to have a PokeStop there.” (PokeStops are physical places in the Pokemon Go game where players can collect items.)

Eden Osucha, a Bates College professor, said she’s intrigued to see the perspective on 9/11 her students have now that those with memories of the attacks are graduating and being replaced by those unable to recall the events and emotions of that dark day.

Osucha teaches a course called “Narrating 9/11 in Literature and Film” and helped put together Sunday’s program “Site Seeing: 9/11 Through Documentary Shorts,” which is a Maine Humanities Council presentation at the Space Gallery in downtown Portland.

Her new students, Osucha said, “don’t have personal baggage” associated with the attacks, but they do have “cultural baggage” because of how events have been related to them by those who lived through that day.

But, she said, many don’t have a full understanding of the cultural landscape of America prior to the attacks because, understandably, the events of that day overshadowed the years that immediately preceded them.

“Students don’t have a lot of information about what came before,” Osucha said.

For instance, she said many students are surprised to learn that the towers, with their blockish design and cold steel exterior, were not exactly beloved by New Yorkers before they were attacked, and that scenes of the towers have been edited out of movies and the opening credits to television shows such as “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City” to avoid evoking sad memories.

Still, she said, younger students need to understand how the public’s view of the towers has shifted.

“People hated them, but now the towers have become ennobled,” she said.

‘PERCEPTION OF AN EVENT CAN CHANGE’

Anne Schlitt, assistant director of the Maine Humanities Council, said it’s important for people to recognize that 9/11 isn’t really a static event, that the perception of it and its relevance to today has shifted and will continue to change.

“Its importance is still unfolding in real time; it’s not fixed,” she said.

In recognition of that, the MHC will hold a forum in November called “9/11 and the Creation of Collective Memory,” which will look at “how society remembers – or forgets – together.”

In addition to Osucha, panelists will be Alice Greenwald, director of the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York, and William Hirst, a psychology professor at the New School for Society Research, also in New York. Hirst’s work includes research on the collective memory relating to the Sept. 11 attacks.

Schlitt said the event will help people frame their own memories of 9/11 and, perhaps, make it easier to relate the event to their children.

“As culture puts out stories about it, your perception of an event can change,” she said.