Educating a Generation That Was Not Born during the September 11 Terrorist Attacks

"Bernadette Ortiz holds up her daughter, Adriana, as she looks for the name of her grandfather, New York City Police officer Edwin Ortiz, at a wall commemorating fallen officers in New York City. Families gathered at the wall following a procession in Lower Manhattan to mark the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks and the officers who were killed during them and afterward." (NPR, 2016). Spencer Platt/Getty Images

It is difficult to believe that the September 11 Attacks took place 19 years ago. It is proper that as a nation we continue to remind ourselves of the dangers of extremism and terrorism. The way I usually define terrorism is when a person or group uses violence to achieve political gain. We have long had our own brand of terrorism right here in the United States. Indeed the term domestic terrorism is gaining popularity in news and social media to describe this phenomenon. Domestic terrorism has now come front and center with the recent deaths and violence at the hands of White Supremacists. Furthermore, the Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted the string of deaths of African Americans at the hand of law enforcement. On this special and hallowed day we would like to re-post an article from a year ago on this day to commemorate the terrorist attacks that took place on September 11, 2001 in New York City.

Originally posted on September 12, 2019

“What Happened on September 11? I Honestly Don’t Know.”

What happened on that day?
On Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001 the al-Qaeda terrorist network successfully executed attacks against the United States using four commercial airplanes. The airplanes were used as missiles to commit suicide bombings on several key buildings in the US. The most damage was done in New York as they completely destroyed the twin towers at the World Trade center. The attacks killed 2,996 people, injured over 6,000 others, and caused at least $10 billion in infrastructure and property damage. The death toll increased even after the initial attacks, as additional people died of cancer and respiratory diseases related to the debris from the destroyed buildings in the months and years following the attacks.

Where were you during 911?
For some, they were wrapping up the third period of seventh grade science class. Others were starting out their morning working at the office when they received “the call.” Still others were starting a routine day on their college campus. But for others, they have no recollection of the events, because they were not even born yet.

Lived Experience or Recent History
These events are for some people a lived experience in recent history and for others a historical event that they read about in history textbooks or learn of the events on an online resource. Many people across the US did not live through the events we know today as 911. Lauren Camera has written an article to this effect in USA Today entitled How to Teach 9/11 to Students With No Memory of It. Because we are in a time period where there are more and more people that do not have a vivid memory or lived experience of that time period, there will be more and more people who honestly do not know what happened unless they are taught information about 911. One of the important aspects of the field of history is that it reminds society of significant past events (Good and bad), events that had such an impact on people’s lives at the time that it would be a travesty for people to forget. September 11 is one of those events in history, that as long as the world exists, we should always remember.   

Conclusion
For many, it is obvious why we should remember and continue to make it a part of the collective memory of the United States (Much like the American Civil War or World War II). But a number of today’s young people may sincerely not understand why it is so important. That is why a good social studies education is so essential today, indeed the job of the classroom teacher is evermore critical. In many cases, the first time students will hear about September 11 is from their social studies teacher. Below I have provided lesson plans and resources that teachers can use to teach students about 911 and even get the conversation started.  

Lesson Plans and Teacher Resources

Lesson Plans
Lesson Plans- 911 Memorial Museum
Middle School Lesson Plans- 911 Museum
9/11 Lesson Plans- National Education Association (NEA)
9/11 Lesson Plans- Scholastic
9/11 Classroom Activities- Newsweek
9/11 Lesson Plans- Teacher Planet
9/11 Lessons- Education World
9/11 Lessons- Tomorrow Together
9/11 Lesson- Teach Hub.com
9/11 Anniversary Teaching Guide- Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility

Footage/News Clips
Remembering 9/11: Watch Today Show’s live broadcast of Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001
9/11 FOIA Videos: Street-Level Footage, Aerial Shots (Viewer Warning)
Second Plane Hits South Tower
Remembering 9/11 | Archive Footage We Will Never Forget

Articles
Photos: Remembering those lost on 9/11
The Names on the Memorial
How to Teach 9/11 to Students With No Memory of It
The 9/11 Anniversary in the Classroom- PBS News Hour
While America Slept: The True Story of 9/11

References
September 11 Attacks- The History Channel
September 11 Attacks- Encyclopedia Britannica
History of the 9/11 Attacks
Teaching Sept. 11 To Students Who Were Born After The Attacks Happened

Discussion Questions
1. Where were you on September 11, 2001 when the terrorist attacks occurred?
2. Why do you think important events are often so quickly forgotten?
3. View some of the resources provided above (Articles, footage, news reports, images). What thoughts and emotions come to mind as you examine the material?
4. What are creative ways teachers might begin discussion about 911? For those currently teaching in the classroom, what are lessons or activities you have tried that have been effective in teaching about September 11? 

30 Comments

  1. My youngest was 3 months old when 9/11 happened. I was paying my husbands speeding ticket (sigh). When I got to the office they had the TV first plane just hit. We all stood in horror as was watched the second plane hit. I have never been in a place that was full of people so quiet in all my life. I paid the fine rushed home to be with my children. My neighbor was looking after2 of them, the other three at school. My husband (who was a Tow boat Capt.) called me saying he didn’t know when he was going to be allowed to come home. The next day the quiet, we live close to the airport, and I hadn’t realized how I took the sounds of planes for granted, it was so quiet. The horror the absolute horror of what had transpired will never be forgotten by me. If you get a moment check out a picture and the story behind “the falling man”. You will not fail to be touched by it.

  2. I was just 2.5 years old when 9/11 happened although, I feel like I am well educated on what happened that day. My dad, whom is a middle school history teacher, told me he remembers being at school that morning and all of a sudden teachers were running down the halls yelling for others to turn on their TVs. I do understand what happened on that day, yet I do not understand how scary others whom “really lived” during this awful event that took place on 9/11/2001. For others that are now in late-elementary school, middle school, and even high school, I think it is important that they are continued to be educated on what happened that day.Just because what happened on 9/11/2001 was 19 years ago does not mean that we have to stop learning and educating others on the topic. My parents took my brother and I a few years back to the memorial in New York and it was so sad and very quiet there, I personally got very emotional.I would show my students The Names on The Memorial article to show really how many people lost their life and how big of a deal 9/11 was. I would explain how each person on the list that lost their life that day, was someone whom was a father, mother, sister, brother, grandparent, friend, and etc. I would explain to my students how 9/11 impacted so many people’s lives and still does today.

  3. This topic is huge for the classroom because of it’s importance in our history! As a future teacher, I agree that even if you were not born during the September 11th terrorist attack that you should be educated about it. That day 19 years ago I was a year old at my grandma’s house, at that age I had no idea what was happening in New York City and the worldwide panic spreading. As I grew up I remember being educated about al-Qaeda and how their attack changed America forever. In this article, I specifically like how you defined domestic terrorism and how it is gaining popularity in our modern time. This article truly helps teachers realize the importance of teaching this lesson in their classroom, thank you for sharing several awesome resources for us to access as well!

  4. I was three years old on September 11, 2001. I believe I was at my grandmas when the attack happened. My mom was let go of work early and she came and picked me up. I do not have any memory of that day, but I have learned a lot about it through history and social studies classes. 9/11 is especially interesting to me since it did happen in my lifetime. I believe it is important to educate students about the attacks so that they understand terrorist attacks and how they effect so many lives. It was a huge event that changed our world forever. It is an important day in history and should always be remembered, especially all those who lost their lives that day.

  5. Even though I was born before 9/11, I have no memory of it because I was only 3 years old. I did grow up learning about it every year in school. My teachers would take the time around the anniversary of it, to explain the importance and make sure we really understood what happened. Because of this, I feel I have a good amount of knowledge to teach my future students about it. I think this is a super important piece of history that all students should learn about. I really like the September 11th resource on teacherplanet.com. This can be a hard topic to teach younger, elementary age students and that website provides really good resources such as worksheets, lesson plans, and even coloring page.

  6. I cannot believe its been 19 years since September 11, 2001. I was in the fourth grade, just starting my school day in science class when the principal came on the PA telling the teacher to check their voicemails. I remember my teacher gasping in shock when she found out. I will forever remember that day. The images of the planes crashing into the towers is an image I will never forget. Even though I was only 9 years old at the time, I also remember the immediate days following the attacks. People were united and American Flags were flown at almost every house and business. With the country being in the state that it currently is in, I believe 9/11 is important for social studies teachers to teach the younger generations what happened on that day and how we as a country responded. All the resources Dr. Childs have provided are great tools to helping inform students on the importance of that day.

  7. I was very young when 9/11 happened. I cannot say I remember much. Other than my parents watching the TV and crying but I am not sure if that is a memory or what I assume in my mind happened. However, my brother remembers this day clearly. He was about 13 and he always says it was the scariest day of his life. For many, it truly was. This day may have been 19 years ago, but to some it feels like it was yesterday. I feel that learning about this day is so important. Not just to remember those who died and get a good understanding of what happened but to see how on that day we were one. Everyone watching felt pain and ache and everyone came together. No one understands like those that were there but on that day America stood together and was just there for each other. I think in the world that we live in today, it is so important to see that in times of hurt and when we were supposed to be torn apart, we united together and stood together. This is something we struggle with today as a country but in my eyes remembering 9/11 is also remembering how strong we are when we unite together.

  8. I was just short of being three years old on September 11, 2001. I don’t remember that day, but I do know what happened. I feel the weight of that day even though I was not old enough to have “lived” it. I have a video compilation that I watch every year of recorded phone calls made from people on the planes and in the towers, and no matter how many times I’ve seen it, I am brought to tears every time. I don’t remember that day, but I remember the war on terrorism that started because of it. I remember the day that they killed Osama Bin Laden. I don’t remember what happened on that day, but I remember what happened because of it.

    It’s a day that changed the course of our entire nation, and it’s so important that we continue to tell our students what happened. These lessons on teaching 9/11 are such a great resource and I hope to be able to use them in my classroom!

  9. I agree that is so important for children to be taught about the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Every year in my elementary school, we would discuss 9/11, listen to voicemails of the victims, and watch videos about the attacks. My teachers never did this to scare us, but did so to educate us on the horrific events that happened that day. I was too young to remember the 9/11 attacks, so I’m glad my teachers never let me forget why it is such a sad day in our history. Like the article said, it would be a “travesty” if no one discussed the attacks and recognized the pain of the victims and their loved ones. It’s the role of educators and guardians to not allow future generations to forget the bad in our history. It can be done with a lesson plan like any other subject and open discussions can be held about the attacks. There is an appropriate way to for children of all ages to learn the darkness in history, and 9/11 is a tragic day no one in our nation should forget.

  10. This article came up again at a good time. As the article mentions the Black Lives Matter movement, it draws attention to a change that needs to be made among America. The attacks on September 11th opened the United States’ eyes to that we are not immune to these types of attacks. For those young enough to not remember the attacks, there are great resources attached to the article to learn more about it, and for teachers, there are also articles that will help you plan lessons. Keeping in mind 9/11 and the Black Lives Matter movement, you could teach a recent American History Lesson. Educating students on topics such as these will help them understand similar topics and current event as they grow older.

  11. I think this is a very important article. I myself just turned 3 when 9/11 happened, and I don’t remember that day. I do remember my parents talking to me about it, and watching documentaries every anniversary of 9/11 on TV. I learned a lot more as I got older in school and we were taught more about the events before and after the 9/11 attack, and how it happened. I think 9/11 is a historical tragedy that every child should be taught in school. It is important they know what happened in their country. The lessons attached are very good tools to use in a classroom to educate students about 9/11.

  12. I was only 2 when 9/11 happened, so I don’t really remember when it happened, but I have always understood how horrible it was and how it still affects us today. I really enjoy this article because this is a very important moment in history to teach to students, and they will need a thorough explanation considering they weren’t alive around the time it happened and I may be the first person to teach them about 9/11. Honoring those who died during the attacks and those who helped is very important and I think would help the students have a better understanding if they see actual people related to the event. I also think it’s important to talk about the Islamophobia that began after 9/11 happened. People still talk about the TSA “random” checks, that don’t seem to be actually be random, because of Anti-Muslim sentiment. This is a heartbreaking event that changed the whole world. I like the lesson plans and references attached because I could still use more information on everything that happened myself. I think students will still be able to get an understanding of the devastation and impact this event left, even though they weren’t alive to experience it.

  13. On September 11th, 2001, I was at home with my mom and my younger sister. I was only 2 years old and my sister only 7 months. I don’t remember anything from that day since I was so young, but my parents have recalled that day many times and talk about what it was like for them. I have a good understanding of that day, not only because of my parents, but also some great teachers I had. I remember being in schooling watching videos about 9/11. I think its extremely important to educate todays students on this subject, especially since they weren’t there to experience it.

  14. On September 11th, 2001, my family and I were in Gatlinburg, TN. I was 3 years old and my brother was only 3 months old. I can’t remember that day but between my parents recollection of that day and what my teachers taught on 9/11, I have an understanding of the emotions that were happening on that day. I think it is important for us as teachers to teach this because it is something they have not experienced in their lifetime.

  15. I was told on the day of 9/11, I was two years old when my dad called my mom and told her he was safe, but to turn the TV on. My dad worked with airplanes and often flew them. I don’t remember, but supposedly my family and I sat and watched the second plane hit the World Trade Center building. I recently went to the memorial and the atmosphere was respectful yet eerily quiet. This is something that should not ever be forgotten. With how many people were affected by it in America, it would be insulting. The country was deeply troubled as a whole and stood together during that time, a feeling of camaraderie that I wish was still present in our country.

  16. Dr. Childs:

    This article is extremely pertinent to all educators teaching the students of today. Although the September 11th attacks happened nineteen years ago, the lessons learned from these tragic events must be taught in every classroom. I was not even five months old when these attacks happened, therefore I am one of many young Americans that has zero memory of the events that took place. However, throughout my primary, middle, and high school education, my teachers made an intentional effort to ensure my peers and I had a comprehensive understanding of the events that took place that day. Although the grade level may define the scope of the conversation, there are various elements which can be added to the lesson to foster a healthy and instructional conversation around the topic. For example, as students become older, it may be appropriate to show footage from that day. This will allow them to better understand the utter turmoil that was felt by so many Americans.

    These resources and supplements are great activities for any educator! As a future teacher, I look forward to the opportunity of exposing students to these events so that they may better understand our history. In addition to this, I hope to explain the implications of the attacks and how they shaped the years following as well as the years ahead of us. This intentional conversation will result in a more comprehensive social studies understanding.

  17. Every year on September 11th, I find myself engulfed in videos of the attack that happened when I was only two years old. Even though I wasn’t old enough to remember it happening, I was still alive when it happened. Despite this, I would consider myself to fall into the category of kids who weren’t born when it happened because I don’t really have a story to the question, “Where were you on September?” Even though I don’t remember it, I was educated by my parents and teachers on what it was. It is extremely important for our teachers to expose and educate their students on this event because half of the world lived through it, it is the most “recent” tragedy to happen in our lifetimes. As Dr. Child’s said, it is a fine line between experience and history.

  18. I don’t remember much from 9/11; however, I do remember talking about it in class every year. Those lessons built my only understanding of the event and I am appreciative of those lessons. Through experience, I wholeheartedly understand the impact of teaching children about the attack and its implications. I think it is important to show clips and share stories from the event to truly create an understanding in students.

  19. I will forever remember the day of 9/11. The memory of sitting in my fifth grade social studies class is one of the clearest memories I have in my life. This was the first day I can remember feeling terror and complete confusion as I watched my teachers huddled together whispering to each other while stealing horrified glances of the classroom. My friend was dismissed early because her father worked at the Pentagon and she was crying. As I arrived home my parents were standing in front of the television and watching the replay of the planes over and over again crashing through buildings. As a future educator I feel the importance of this day cannot be overstated. The next generation needs to be taught about this event so like past events such as World War 1 they can understand why it matters and what it meant for America.

  20. When 9/11 happened I was just six years old and, presumably, in school at the time. I say presumably because despite being very much so alive and “turned on” mentally I have no recollection of that day. I think that things like this should have been considered much earlier than just for the generation that was born after the fact. After all, there are plenty of people that don’t remember the incident. There are people who even DO remember the incident and don’t really remember the most important details.

  21. 9/11 was a tragic event and one that ushered in a new decade of American politics and foreign policy. The terrorist attacks launched by Al Qaeda on September, 11, of 2001, would become a horrible experience forever stamped into the minds of those who watched it unfold live on television sets across the country. The United States is still experiencing the effects of 9/11 19 years later, as our troops are still active in Afghanistan. I myself, being 22, have no memory of the event, but I have grown up in its shadow. I have faint memories of hearing President Bush and Colin Powell discuss the Iraq and Afghan wars, and I remember watching many comedic shows that parodied the president and the war, such as the Chappell Show or SNL. As I prepare to become an educator, it will be interesting to observe how I approach the subject of 9/11 compared to my older coworkers who remember the event well. Likewise, it will be interesting to teach my students about the current pandemic in the future.

  22. In Dr. Child’s article about educating youth that were born after September 11, he makes several interesting points. First, it’s very hard to believe that the tragedy that befell our nation and changed our way of life happened nearly two decades ago. For many of us who lived through it, it seems like it was just yesterday. Dr. Child’s also brings up an interesting point about the rise in domestic terrorism of late in the United States. Even just recently with Kyle Rittenhouse killing two protestors in Kenosha, WI, these events seem to be happening with frightening frequency. It is important to educate our youth about that day, and to try and convey the emotions that were felt- anger, sadness, confusion. They can never really know how it felt to experience it, but it is imperative that we, as educators, try to convey the seriousness of the situation.

  23. On this day I was working as a manager in a restaurant in a small town. I remember this day so clearly. In our lobby, we had two televisions that we kept on news stations. It was a Tuesday and I was in the kitchen and one of my employees looks at me from the drive thru window and said that one of our customers had told her that a plane had just hit one of the twin towers. When the second tower was hit you could hear the customers in the lobby all gasp and cry out. From that moment on the day was a blur. We were the only public place to have a television and people came in all day long to see what was going on. I did not actually see any of the footage until I got home that day and watched the evening news. However, I remember the days after the attacks how the country seemed to come together as one and was united. American flags went up on all the houses and people just seemed genuinely nicer. Having two daughters that were born many years afters the attacks, I have made it a point to educate them on what happened on that terrible day. I also know that their school has also educated them on the day we call 911. This is a lived experience of history for me and something that I will be able to share. Those who were old enough to remember the events of this day, know exactly what they were doing the moment the events took place and can recall that day so vividly. I remember something that one of my bosses said in a meeting shortly after the attacks took place. He said that we have just experienced a day that will be in the history books, when your children or grandchildren ask you about these events, what will you be able to tell them you did to help out? He said that we cannot go to ground zero but we can give our blood, donate items or money. This stuck with me all of these years as I wanted to be able to tell my children and grandchildren that I gave my blood so that those who need it could have it. This is something that hit home with me on how we were able to come together as one united country, something we are not at this point.

  24. I remember being in elementary school and my teacher turning on the T.V. and sitting on her desks just watching the news. Not until i got home did i realize what had truly happened. September 11th 2001 will always be one of the biggest tragedies and events in modern American History and to realize that their are students in high school who were not even born yet is truly eye opening to how fast time truly moves. It is important to teach these moments in history and share our experiences if any with them. It is our jobs as teachers to explain the emotions and the severity of the situation and the domino affect this moment had on United States history.

  25. As someone that was two years old when 9/11 happened I truly do not have any recollection of the events that occurred that day. My father has told me where I was and what was happening in my life before it happened, but I did not understand it until I learned about it in elementary school. It is weird that by the time we are teaching it will be a historical event for every student in our classrooms, but I agree that it is the job of social studies teachers to make sure that students understand why things happened. If the students understand why then hopefully bad history won’t repeat itself when their generation is in charge.

  26. It is weird to think that, because the event occurred so recently in history, many people today were not alive or have no recollection of it. I am technically one of those people because I was only two at the time and have no memory of the event. But from all of the stories I have heard from family and friends I feel as though I had lived through it. Some, like my mother, were teaching a class when she received a call to turn on the television and watch the news. I can only imagine the emotions that were felt during those moments. It is something that would be near impossible to replicate for students to fully understand what happened and the impact it made. They, as well as I, will never know what life was like before all of the changes to the country came post-911. For them this world is the norm.

  27. I was only two years old on September 11, 2001, so I don’t have any memory of the day in question. However, my parents have told me about their experience on that day, and I recognize its significance and how scary it must have been to turn on the news in the morning and realize your country is being attacked by terrorists. With every passing year, it seems that less and less focus is being placed on this event, since all children that are alive today were not alive during the attacks — they don’t realize how drastic of an impact 9/11 had on the United States. I still believe that students should be taught about 9/11 every year on the anniversary, since many of them may not be aware of its significance.

  28. On september 11, 2001 i was almost 3 years old so a lot of the memories that i have from this day were told to me by my parents and grandparents. even though I was young it will be a day that I always remember and a day that I always acknowledge as a turning point in our country for many different reasons. For me it is crazy to think about how this part of recent history for adults and most college students is looked at in a different way by high school and middle school students because they were not alive during the event. I think it is important to take a look back every year and not forget this day because thousands of innocent civilians lost their life on this grim day and changed many things for travel and security in our country today.

  29. On Sept 11, 2001, I was 2 years old and I have no recollection of this event at all. I know about it from stories my parents told me about this day and hearing about it in school also. I know from stories that the day after 911, our country was the strongest it had ever been. Everyone was there for each other, there were no arguments or opinions being said about the race you were, if you were republican or democrat. That didn’t matter. What mattered is that everyone was there for each other. I think a lot has been forgotten since this event has happened and we are not as strong as we were 19 years ago.

  30. On 9/11, I was only 2 years old. I was told that I was at my grandparents’ house and my parents had come to pick me up to take me home. My parents told me that they sat on the couch together with me and watched the tragedy happen as it was occurring live on tv. I think that important events are often so quickly forgotten because it is the truth that time never stops. Which means those that weren’t born or too young to remember sometimes believe that those events don’t matter to them because they weren’t born or old enough. Me, personally, I believe that this event is so important to remember for the United States. Even though I was part of the generation that was too young or not born yet, I still find interest in the event and like to learn new information about the occurrence. When looking at different resources about 9/11, it gives me chills. I just think about how it must have felt for those that were actually present in those plane crashes. I think about those firefighters and first responders. I think about those pedestrians that were there watching this happen right before them, or those that were actually standing in the building watching the planes come towards them. I think about how everyone in the United States felt while watching it happen on tv. I think about how those people may have felt in that time because it indeed was one of America’s worst tragedies. I think that it is so important for teachers to educate students about 9/11. I don’t think it necessarily needs to be an entire unit; however, I believe that on 9/11 or the week of 9/11, there should be videos, papers, pictures, etc. shown to students so they can see what happened on that day in history.

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