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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

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