Teaching 9-11 as history

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In college, study of American history is often broken down into two chunks. Professors pick a date to divide time in two: 1865, after the Civil War, say, or 1900, because it looks good. So for those who teach courses on the first half, their purview is fairly well defined.

But those who teach the second half, such as Jonathan Rees, face a persistent problem: The past keeps growing. Rees teaches U.S. history and, like many teachers, every few years responds to major events by adding them to his lectures. But that means other important events get left behind. He wrote about this conundrum in a piece for The Historical Society blog, "When Is It Time To Stop Teaching Something?"

Rees tells NPR's Neal Conan that when he first started teaching, in the late '90s, he taught history up to the fall of the Berlin Wall. But "September 11th just changed things, so I had to change my course," says Rees. "And I'm still struggling with those decisions."

Of course, his lessons didn't change on the day of the attacks, but once students started showing up who had completely forgotten about it — "18-year-olds who were about seven when 9/11 happened" — he knew he had to teach it. But there are only so many hours of instruction in the semester.

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