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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

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