School Climate & Safety

Student Poll Asks How Schools Talked About Terrorist Assaults

By Rhea R. Borja — October 10, 2001 3 min read
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About two of every three K-12 students say their teachers have been talking with them about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Only 16 percent say their teachers have avoided discussing the events, according to a national survey.

Harris Interactive, a market-research firm based in Rochester, N.Y., conducted the online survey of 1,241 public and private school students, ages 8 to 18, between Sept. 19 and 24. The survey was a representative sample of students in those age groups.

In general, high schools have done more to help explain the attacks than elementary schools have, said John Geraci, the vice president for Youth Research at Harris Interactive. Schools serving the lower grades have tended to be more cautious because of the young ages of their pupils, he said.

“This is really the first historical thing that’s happened to this entire generation,” Mr. Geraci said, “and the really good educational leaders are recognizing that and using it as a teachable moment.”

The survey, “Views Towards Terrorism, The Attack on America” is available from Harris Interactive. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

Lisa Ramirez, a senior at Meadowbrook High School in Chesterfield County, Va., said the discussions she’s had at school have chiefly been in her government class, where it’s often brought up. “We talk about what the [federal] government is doing” in response to the terrorist attack, she said.

Teachers from her other classes have avoided talking about the terrorism, said Ms. Ramirez.

The survey, released in sections between Sept. 28 and Oct. 2, also found that 60 percent of all children and teenagers responding had watched television coverage of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks at school on the day they happened, but only 27 percent were allowed to watch the news in school after Sept 11. That proportion drops from 27 percent to 17 percent for 10- to 12-year-olds and to 10 percent for 8- and 9-year-olds.

Talking to Parents

Parents are not shying away from talking with their children about the attacks, the survey suggests. More than 70 percent of all students surveyed said their parents had been discussing the terrorism with them, and 67 percent said their parents had allowed them to continue watching TV coverage of the events in the days that followed.

Sarah Troutt, a 15-year-old at Klein Forest High School in Houston, who did not participate in the Harris survey, said she has had an ongoing discussion of the events with her parents. “This is the main issue we talk about,” she said.

Many students have also grieved for the victims and showed their patriotic and charitable spirit. Sixty-two percent have prayed, 60 percent have bought or displayed the American flag, and 39 percent have donated money to relief efforts.

The attacks had a particular impact on Ms. Ramirez, the Virginia senior. Many of her relatives live in New York City, and she didn’t find out until hours later that her aunt, who worked in the World Trade Center, was safe. In response, Ms. Ramirez helped organize a school fund-raiser that garnered more than $1,100 to support relief efforts.

The survey found that students’ patriotic feelings extend to supporting military action against those responsible for the terrorism, but with certain restrictions.

Almost 70 percent of the teenage respondents say they would support a military response, but only 31 percent would back such action if it meant killing innocent civilians.

Casey Blanton, a senior at Lawton Chiles High School in Tallahassee, Fla., who was not a poll respondent, said: “I don’t want to be involved in war. I’m hoping it never comes to that. But I’m patriotic enough to do what my country wants me to do.”

At least 50 percent of those polled said they would agree to tighter security measures, such as physical searches before boarding airplanes and armed patrols of public places by the military.

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