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Guest column: Teaching children the lessons of 9/11


By Joe Daniels

President & CEO

National September 11 Memorial & Museum


Today, as we honor the thousands of innocent people lost in the attacks of September 11, 2001, we must also reflect on the meaning of this event in our collective history. 9/11 was the most witnessed event in modern times. Hundreds of millions of people watched the attacks unfold while standing on the streets of New York City or gathering around televisions across the United States and around the world. Yet there is already an entire generation growing up with no firsthand knowledge of what happened that day – a generation for whom it’s difficult to comprehend that we live in a world defined, in part, by the events of 9/11 – because they were born into a post-9/11 world.The record of the attacks and our understanding of their aftermath and impact are still evolving. But given that the threat of terrorism remains a global reality, we have a responsibility to help our children learn about 9/11 and how it shaped our world today.

Future generations must learn that people responded to the 9/11 attacks by acting on their core values. The inspiring courage, generosity, and compassion seen in the aftermath of 9/11 showed that it is sometimes in the face of the worst of humanity that we can find the best of the human spirit. There are so many stories of selfless actions people took in response to devastation -- and examples of people who channeled their anger, hatred, and fear into acts of healing, helping, and learning.

This morning, many classrooms will observe a moment of silence or engage in another act of commemoration. However, educators are charged with much more than that. They have to find a way to make 9/11 comprehensible to young people who will increasingly have no personal memory of the attacks. The horror of what happened and the potential for high emotions make 9/11 a difficult subject to broach.

To make the topic even more difficult for educators, there are relatively few up to date resources available for teaching about 9/11. Given the breadth of historical topics, it is often difficult for teachers to include recent events.

Despite these obstacles, these discussions need to begin now. Educators must lead conversations about what happened, remember their own experiences, and consider how best to honor an important chapter of our nation’s history. And we must look toward building a national curriculum that will give teachers the resources needed to guide lessons and discussions.

This past Monday, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum launched a pilot program to help provide teachers with resources and tools to honor and commemorate the anniversary. We hope to receive feedback from teachers and begin a dialogue about teaching this history. We are also encouraged that the September 11th Education Trust has developed a civic education program.

When it opens, the Memorial Museum will serve as an educational resource for school groups who visit the World Trade Center site. However, we need to make sure that teachers have resources in their classrooms to teach the history of 9/11 and its aftermath. Now is the time to start thinking about how we can ensure that this recent but seminal history can be shared with students -- teaching children to carry the selflessness exhibited in response to 9/11 with them, and to do their part, no matter how small, to make the world a place free from the horrors of that day.

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