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.   

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
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

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

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? 


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

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