Changing the Way I Teach 9/11

This year marked the 15th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks, but it is also the first time that I had a group of students who had no memory of the attacks. In fact, almost every teacher is experiencing this as students are born farther and farther away from 2001 and it has completely transformed the way I discuss 9/11 with them.

When I first started teaching, I would start class by showing the following video:


Then follow up by discussing what I remember about that day and what I witnessed. I was also a very history-oriented child and I collected every magazine and newspaper that discussed 9/11 over ten years so I would show them those materials; I'm working on compiling them into a scrapbook for students to look at. Students would then share what memories they had or the memories of their parents, but most of the time they would ask me specific questions about the event, like why it happened, how the world changed, etc. Many times it took an entire period, but I found that both the students and I really valued the discussion and the open dialogue. As time went on, I've added more to the discussion by showing them the original Spiderman (2002) teaser trailer and how it was changed as well as the unedited scene from Armageddon (1998).  

Since I had many of the same students last year, I decided to change it up and show them the Flocabulary video that discusses 9/11; I really liked the detail it covered, including who caused it, why, and the results. My sophomores had lots of prior knowledge of 9/11 and the flow of the class stayed the same as the years before. In fact, I was able to tie it into our project since we are studying ancient societies and their cultures; we discussed how events, like September 11th, can transform a society.

But my freshmen were a different story. At first point, I asked one group of 9th graders to reflect on how 9/11 changed our society. After seeing their responses, I realized that they didn't know because they had no memory of what happened. I got the same responses as I would have gotten if I asked them describe how the country changed following Pearl Harbor in 1941; 'people were scared' 'people were angry' 'we went to war'. They didn't know the emotional connection or the changes because, in their world, there was no "life before 9/11". 

As a history teacher, I realized that I have officially reached the point that discussing 9/11 is discussing a historical event, not a current event. I now need to change my entire plan of how I discuss the event with them since I can no longer just 'expect' them to remember or recall events since they were not alive when it happened. I realize that many teachers that teach children younger than high school probably realized this sooner, but for me this year was eye-opening.

I haven't fully decided how I'm going to modify my plan - maybe a project of some sort? After the first conversation with the freshmen, I discussed more of my experiences and asked them to explain whether they felt our country is better prepared for an attack than we were 15 years ago. I greatly emphasized why it is important to remember this event and that soon they will be the one's to carry on the memories of that day; the entire school showed this video during Pro Period on the importance of remembering 9/11.

How have you modified your teaching 9/11 for the generation that does not remember? I'm curious for ideas on how to cover the event next year!

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