ILE – In this Sept. 11, 2001 file photo, the twin towers of the World Trade Center burn after hijacked planes crashed into them in New York. As the post-Sept. 11 decade ends, some foreign families of the victims are eager to move past the tragedy. But though the pain transcended borders, foreign families have battled to cope with their loss from afar. (AP Photo/Diane Bondareff, File)
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Ten years after terrorists crashed planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the profound impact on the United States is not hard to see, from heightened domestic-security measures to the U.S. role in conflicts deemed part of a war on terror. What’s less obvious is how the attacks have filtered into American classrooms.
Some observers and educators suggest the effects on instruction are generally at the margins, that the events of Sept. 11, 2001, in New York City, suburban Washington, and southwest Pennsylvania appear to get little or no attention in most social studies classes.
In fact, fewer than half the states explicitly identify the 9/11 attacks in their high school standards for social studies, according to a forthcoming study.
Some teachers, however, have worked hard to better educate both themselves and their students about issues related to 9/11 and its aftermath. Beyond the events of the day, they’ve sought to promote a deeper understanding of the Middle East, U.S. foreign policy in that region, or—amid stereotypes some students bring to school equating Muslims with terrorists—the diversity of the Islamic faith and cultures around the globe.
“It is, for better or worse, one of the defining moments of contemporary history,” said Clifford Chanin, the acting education director for the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, in New York City, which has developed many resources for schools. “I think it is essential that the event be studied and understood. … It’s now a factor in what the world has become and what it will become. You’ve got to prepare students for some relationship with 9/11 and its consequences.”
With the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks coming in less than two weeks, schools around the country are expected to take the opportunity to memorialize the event, and in some cases, use it as a topic of classroom discussion. Many students today may have only vague notions of 9/11, since they were young or not even born when the attacks occurred.
Beyond memorial activities, the question is the extent to which schools embed 9/11 and its impact into curricula in meaningful ways to help students make sense of the changes and challenges the attacks sparked, in America and globally.
Experts say delving into 9/11 is not easy for teachers, and takes considerable preparation and support.
Mr. Chanin said he gets a lot of questions from educators, including: How do we explain what happened? How do we explain the world since it happened?
“Those are extremely complicated questions,” he said. “The field of Middle Eastern studies, Islamic studies, security studies—these are complicated subjects. Not all the experts agree. It’s a challenge” for teachers.
Fear of Controversy
For schools that do want to take up 9/11 issues in greater detail, there’s no shortage of resources.
A variety of curricular materials have long been available, and a new wave has been timed for the 10th anniversary. In July, for instance, New Jersey officials unveiled a voluntary 9/11 curriculum that covers such topics as the historical context of terrorism, the post-9/11 war in Afghanistan, and U.S. debates over security vs. civil liberties. Login to read more