Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY


September 11, 2011

Teachers share 9/11 with pupils too young to remember

GLASGOW — Ten years after terrorists hijacked passenger jets and crashed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville, Pa., teachers of all grades can no longer play off most children’s memories of that shocking day. Instead, teachers are learning to teach the events of Sept. 11, 2001, just like they would any other historic moment, because most students under the age of 18 have little to no memory of that day.

“The kids today don’t remember it,” said Derek Atkinson, who teaches seventh and eighth grade history at Barren County Middle School. “(They know) what little they’ve learned on TV.”

While every teacher can still vividly recall exactly where they were and what they were doing on Sept. 11, only the high schoolers can at least say what kindergarten or first grade class they were in. For Denise Howard’s fifth grade class at Highland Elementary, her students can count in months how old they were.

“That was the first thing we did. We had the kids count back to how old they were,” Howard said.

Almost all under a year old, her students have zero memories of 9/11, so Howard has to “start from scratch” when she teaches them about that day.

“We try to introduce it as any other historic event,” Howard said. “To me, it happened in my lifetime, so I have those feelings from it. They don’t have those feelings.”

It’s Howard’s job to help her students feel connected to the events of 9/11, she said. She doesn’t want to scare or upset them, but she wants them to know it affected them too, because they are Americans. The Sept. 11 attacks are part of each American’s history.

“We just want them to know what happened,” Howard said. “You may not remember it, but it’s your history. You’re an American … I think they kind of understand it.”

Howard, along with the rest of the Highland teachers, weaves her lessons on 9/11 into her lessons on patriotism, service and being a good citizen. At the elementary level, Howard said she and her coworkers are careful to make sure their 9/11 lessons are age-appropriate.     For Todd Steenbergen, chair of the social studies department at Barren County High School, worrying about the appropriateness of his 9/11 lesson is not as much an issue. He spent much of the week leading up to the Sept. 11 anniversary showing videos, reading books and talking about 9/11 with the students in all his classes. In the assignments sections on the whiteboard in Steenbergen’s classroom, under World Civ., Bible and Influence and A.P. U.S. History, it says “Remembering 9/11.” His third period spent Friday connected to a video discussion based out of New York with survivors of 9/11.

Most high schoolers don’t have too many questions, Steenbergen said. Although they were very young when it happened, they have grown up hearing about 9/11 and talking to adults who remember.

“Today, (high school) kids have heard enough thoughts about 9/11 that they have formed their own opinions and perspectives about what happened, and about U.S. actions (after the attacks),” Steenbergen said.

Fifth graders, though, still have to ask why, Howard said.

“In fifth grade, they ask a lot of questions,” she said. “Why? Why did they want to hurt our country?

“They ask how it happened, what we did to change things so it wouldn’t happen again.”

While Howard encourages the more simplistic discussions her fifth graders have, Atkinson hopes his classes will be able to delve deeper into the subject on Monday. While “middle school students don’t really think beyond tomorrow or yesterday,” he said, he tries in his classroom to promote deeper discussions of 9/11 and other historic events. He is waiting until Monday to have a full lesson on 9/11, because he is hoping that his students will spend the weekend absorbing news coverage and others’ memories of 9/11, so that they can fully understand the attacks and their implications on U.S. history.

“They are going to be more aware of it, more knowledgeable, so they’ll ask more questions, hopefully better questions,” Atkinson said.

In general, his seventh and eighth graders ask more questions about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan than they do the events of 9/11 itself, Atkinson said. Those wars are in their lives. In seventh grade, they also ask a lot of questions about Islam, during the religious history portion of the course. Atkinson said he doesn’t shy away from answering questions about Muslims any more than he shies away from questions about why the country is at war, because he wants to make sure his students are not stereotyping groups of people, and that they understand both sides of each issue.

“I try to bring up both sides of the argument, both sides of the story...I really enjoy having a good discussion in class,” Atkinson said.

While sometimes it is difficult to teach the children about such a terrible day in American history, Howard said, “I can’t call myself a history teacher if I skip the things that are sad or scary ... It’s part of us.” It is teachers’ responsibility to help their students understand all of American history and how it shaped the United States.

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