Need to Do Better at Teaching 9/11 as HistoryHistorians in the News
tags: 9/11, teaching history
No one who remembers seeing them will ever forget the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But 20 years later, they’re almost as far in the rearview mirror as the Carter presidency was when the attacks happened. An entire generation of children has been born, raised and graduated high school since then, and even some teachers today were children in 2001.
The attacks are a historical event now — a subject taught in schools. And an expert who has been studying how Sept. 11 and its aftermath are taught said that historical distance has created problems for teachers.
Jeremy Stoddard, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, has led surveys of teachers, looking to see how Sept. 11 is taught, and what teachers wish they could have to teach it more effectively.
He’s one of the curators of a website with resources and guides for teachers on Sept. 11, that include primary sources — news accounts and broadcasts from the day, as well as fictional and nonfictional works to provide context on the rise of the Taliban, Osama bin Laden and other related themes.
The main split in the way Sept. 11 is taught, Stoddard said, is whether to teach it as a memorial, or as an event that continues to have an effect on students’ lives. And a lot of factors go into that.
In places where teachers don’t have a lot of time or resources, they end up “teaching about these events only, sort of, on the anniversary, and a little bit out of context,” Stoddard said. “And that’s because their own curriculum doesn’t include it, or it includes it at the very end, after the test.”
On the anniversary, he added, “They’re going to show some of the news footage or a piece of a documentary, maybe talk about how they experienced that. They want to try to have students understand how they felt that day, and have them … try to get a sense of how most people in the U.S. would have witnessed that — which was through a television.”
In systems and classes with better resources, teachers can take a longer view. Sept. 11 is included in other units “looking at big trends over the past, 50 or 100 years,” Stoddard said. In some classrooms, Stoddard said, teachers compare and contrast Afghanistan and Vietnam, Sept. 11 and Pearl Harbor.
“9/11 fits in when you’re looking at the trajectory out of the Cold War, and out of globalization and things … then you sort of teach it within that context,” he added. “Or as part of the modern Middle East — for example, a lot of world history teachers will teach it, and then it fits in nicely.”
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