Schools prepare to remember 9-11 in class on 10-year anniversary

GENESEE COUNTY, Michigan — Ask anyone younger than 30 where they were when they learned of the Sept. 11 attacks, and you’re likely to get an answer like Tiffany Taylor’s.

“I was in class.”

For an entire generation, Sept. 11, 2001 instantly became one of those rare American moments — like the preceding generation’s John F. Kennedy assassination — in which millions walked into classrooms expecting another quiet day learning about history.

Instead, they watched it unfold.

“All I knew was we were just sitting there, completely quiet,” said Taylor, who was an 8-year-old third grader at Morrish Elementary in Swartz Creek at the time.

Taylor, now an 18-year-old University of Michigan-Flint freshman, said an announcement came on over the PA system about the attacks, but her and other classmates were too young to understand what was happening.

“I was like: ‘What is going on? Why is this going on? Why is this happening?’ ”

Now, long after the rubble and dust from the towers has been swept away, 9-11 as a classroom topic is as strong as ever.

Students all across Michigan start their first day of school today. For many, their first lessons will involve Sunday’s 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

“It can be a touchy subject, but at the same time it needs to be addressed,” said Loraine Brinker, a high school history teacher at Flint K-12 charter school International Academy.

Even Zach Stone — who was a few years older than Taylor in the sixth grade at Flushing Central Elementary — said he had struggled to wrapping his head around the event.

Stone, now 21, said he and the other older kids in the school were taken into the library to watch the news.

“I knew that it was bad,” he said. “But I don’t think I understood the gravity of the situation.”

Doug Hyde, who was in eighth grade at Swartz Creek Middle School, said he spent a lot of the day in confusion.

Hyde was coming back from lunch when classmates started to notice the images on the classroom televisions. Teachers let them come in and watch the news.

“I knew something bad happened … I didn’t even know what terrorism was,” said Hyde, now 23.

Hyde said he got little explanation from teachers that day. He had to get with other students to talk about the attack.

“We kind of all figured out together that it was bad,” he said.

And, now, 10 years later, teachers are preparing lessons on that fateful day again — one of the first subjects they will have to tackle in the new school year.

Brinker and fellow high school history teacher Brady Pawlik have a unique plan for their school.

Throughout the school day Monday, Sept. 12 (since the anniversary falls on a Sunday), the entire school will get periodic updates over the PA system marking the times of significant events from the day.

For example, at 8:46 a.m., students will be told that’s the exact time American Airlines Flight 11, originally bound for Los Angeles, crashed into floors 93-99 of the World Trade Center’s North Tower.

And at 9:03 a.m., they’ll learn United Airlines Flight 175, also destined for Los Angeles, crashed into floors 77-85 of the South Tower.

“We’re looking at what actually happened that day and not sugarcoating it,” said Brinker.

Students and teachers in all classes and grades will be encouraged to talk about the events as they unfold through the day. Teachers in younger grades will have more basic, age-appropriate conversations while older grades will explore themes of nationalism, Arab-American relations and the war on terror.

The teachers said today’s K-12 students are some of the first Americans who are too young to remember the attacks — or can barely remember. Many haven’t been given the chance to experience and talk about the effect of the attacks.

“We can try to put those students in the same positions and literally ask them how they feel,” Pawlik said.

The 9-11 attacks, and their far-reaching implications, became subject matter for teachers in all grades immediately after the event, said Doug Stuart, a Pennsylvania professor who helped launch the website Teaching 9-11 in 2002.

The site offers direction to a wide selection of teaching tools, including lesson plans, speech transcripts and news reports.

It was shortly after the attacks when Stuart got an unsettling feeling about how the attacks were getting spun in classrooms.

“I saw some interest groups who were very anxious to use 9-11 to send out a certain kind of message, in part to the educational community,” said Stuart, a professor of political science and international studies at Dickinson College, a small private college.

For example, liberal groups wanted 9-11 taught in the context of tolerance and cultural misunderstanding and conservatives wanted teachers to focus on terrorism and national security, Stuart said.

“I didn’t like the fact that you had to go to different kinds of websites to get those different perspectives,” he added.

Stuart said he thinks the national conversation about 9-11, and international relations in general, has evolved since 2001. There’s more critical thinking and polite debate and less forcing of ideologies.

“I think that has gotten down to the classroom level as well,” he said.

At Clio High School, social studies teacher Jennifer Wilson said she’s use a range of materials to teach the topic, including news reports and pictures from the day.

The challenge, she said, is making the topic real for a generation that didn’t experience the day.

For them, it might as well be the JFK assassination.

“They were in first grade, they were in third grade,” Wilson said of her students. “They don’t remember it.”

As read on: http://www.mlive.com/education/index.ssf/2011/09/schools_prepare_to_remember_9-.html

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: