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? 

5 Comments

  1. Because this awful catastrophe occurred right before my birth, I am among the many children who were not living at the time. Every year at school, the anniversary of 9/11 was always discussed around and around that time.

  2. As someone that was an infant when 9/11 happened, this article was very relatable. We can learn about the event and feel the pain, but the fact of the matter is that we didn’t live through the trauma of what every American faced that day. Most Americans that can remember the events, remember them so vividly because it made an impact. The impact that it made on this country is one that we will never fully understand. I already feel so much compassion for every person that died that day that I can’t imagine how I’d be affected if I remembered it happening. It is an event that should never be forgotten, and the names of those individuals that lost their lives that day deserve to be heard for eternity. It is important to teach today’s children about how far we have come in this country since that day. The one thing I wish I could remember is the unity that this country had after 9/11. As an American, I would like to experience that unity of individuals where everyone puts aside their differences and comes together for the same cause, because our country doesn’t seem to have that unity at the moment.

  3. This terrible event happened just before I was born, so I am part of the large group of children who weren’t alive when it happened. Every single year in school, 9/11 was always talked about around and during its anniversary. I think that it is pertinent that we continue to educate children about this seeing as it changed the US forever. Admittedly, I feel a little desensitized regarding the topic seeing as how I wasn’t old enough to really understand it, let alone alive at all.

  4. When 9/11 happened, I had just turned 4 years old. I have no memory of what I was doing at the time. As I got older I leaned about the event and how big of a lasting impact it left our country. It makes me sad to this day of how many people lost their loved ones. Anytime to educate kids this piece of history is an appropriate time when they can understand. Death is a very sensitive subject in my eyes to talk to kids about because they are learning so much. On the event it’s better to talk about it to bring awareness and an understanding. Children need to learn the truth and behind the truth also leaves us tragedy. It’s a hard topic to talk about but also needs to be address for them to learn about real world problems.

  5. After reading this article I realized that even though I was just little girl when September 11th happened and I don’t remember that day vividly, I do remember my parents talking about it years later and seeing the event every year on the news and at school. Even though I don’t remember when it happened the fact that it happened while I was alive made me resonate with it and feel the same fear that those older than me felt when it happened. But I realize that students today were born years after it, and although we celebrate it every year it is different for them because it happened so long ago. That is why it is so important to teach students today the importance of this horrific event and to try and explain to them how it affected our country because it was such a huge day in our nation’s history. It is so important to teach our students about this day.

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