September 9, 2011

How do you teach about Sept. 11?

For students today, the emotional resonance of the attacks diminishes as Sept. 11 becomes a day in world history rather than a vivid memory.

By Jason Singer
Assistant City Editor / Online

(Continued from page 1)

The Curriculum Under Construction

More than 60 million children in America are 14 and younger, according to the U.S.  Census bureau. So how do teachers handle the daunting task of trying to explain the significance of 9/11 to students who don't remember when anyone could walk right up to the gate at the airport or when Osama bin Laden wasn't a household name?

Though it has been a decade, just a few states and school districts have a set curriculum for teaching sept. 11. Unlike Pearl Harbor or the assassinations of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. And president John F. Kennedy, the story of 9/11 is still being written as the country continues to grapple with its impact.

New Jersey unveiled its new curriculum this year in honor of the 10th anniversary of the attacks, a lesson plan created by families of sept. 11 victims and the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education. It provides 56 lessons -- which start simple and grow in complexity and maturity with each grade level -- emphasizing the good that came out of the tragedy for younger students and examining the history of terrorism and other complicated lessons for older students.

The lessons recommend some kind of action, such as creating art about tolerance or service projects to honor or remember victims.

New York City, the nation's largest school district, announced an updated Sept. 11 curriculum this month that includes tips on how to help students cope with learning about the horrors of that day, a study of the art inspired by the terrorist attacks and a history of the building of the 9/11 memorial. The project was done in partnership with the National September 11 Memorial & Museum and a group of new york city educators.

-- The Associated Press

Back to "Remembering 9/11"  special section

"In the end, this allows them to think critically and come to their own ideas, and that's what I'm trying to accomplish as a teacher," she said.

Cuts to social studies programs haven't helped efforts to teach students about Sept. 11. From 2001 to 2006, school districts cut social studies by 36 percent nationally, according to a study by the Center on Policy Education. That number has risen to about 50 percent, Blanchette said. Schools only get tested on math and reading, so social studies have taken a back seat on the priority list, she said.

In terms of Sept. 11, this can hurt students' understanding of complex issues associated with the attacks. For example, Armstrong said, if students' lose their world religions class in middle school that teaches the basic principles of Islam, how can they intelligently discuss in high school the difference between al-Qaida's values and what the Quran actually teaches?

"Even with cuts, though, we have to find a way to fit it in," Armstrong said. "Sept. 11 permeates the society, so when they're talking in class about the Bill of Rights in early American history, maybe they talk about the Patriot Act, and how the government can now scan your library cards and emails?

"The effects and consequences of Sept. 11 are all around us. It's something we deal with daily. These are issues that help prepare our students for a global world, so it's important we talk about them as often as possible."

Staff Writer Jason Singer can be reached at 791-6437 or at:

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