Social Studies

On 9/11 Anniversary, Lessons About Attacks Are Taking Hold

By Sean Cavanagh — September 11, 2009 2 min read
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As the United States commemorates the eighth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, teachers have an increasing number of resources available to help them to create lessons focused on the events of that day, and their implications for the country.

My reading of various materials put together by teachers and advocacy groups suggest that educators have more options available today than they did three or four years ago. Back then, as my colleague Kathleen Manzo reported, teachers were often left cobbling together lessons about 9-11 on their own. I profiled a teacher in a New Jersey school who had, in the wake of Sept. 11, crafted a vocational curriculum that was tied to public safety, emergency response, and national security.

The classroom resources that have floated across my computer screen in recent weeks include an interdisciplinary curriculum created by the Sept. 11 Education Trust, a nonprofit group representing survivors of the attacks and their families, and the Social Studies School Service, a commercial provider of education products.

The two groups created a multimedia curriculum that can be used as independent lessons or as a yearlong course of study, made up of seven curriculum units. The resources include 70 first-person interviews with survivors, victim’s families, and public officials. The curriculum also includes interview transcripts, a video timeline of the day, lesson plans, an interactive Web site, student handouts, and activities that focus on acts of public service and civic participation.

In an Associated Press story about the unveiling of the curriculum in New York schools, the executive director of the Sept. 11 Education Trust suggests that some of the images in the materials are difficult to watch. “We’re not sugarcoating the event,” he said. “"We’ve included images that are challenging

I would imagine that K-12 teachers face several questions in creating lessons based on the 9/11 attacks. An obvious one is how to choose age-appropriate lessons. Another is deciding how broad, or narrow, to make those lessons: How far should a teacher delve into the ideology of the attackers or expand the lesson into a broader discussion of U.S.-Middle East relations? An additional, very practical question comes to mind: Since the anniversary comes at the beginning of the school year, some teachers may think that their students don’t have enough background on some of the national and international issues to discuss the attacks, and the U.S. response to them, with a sufficient level of depth.

For teachers who have led discussions of the 9/11 attacks in their classes, what was your approach? And what were the biggest challenges you faced in trying to stage a meaningful discussion?

Photo: Diane Massaroli of Staten Island, N.Y., holds a picture of her late husband, Michael Massaroli, who worked at Cantor Fitzgerald in the World Trade Center, during a ceremony on Sept. 11 at ground zero to commemorate the eighth anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York. Chris Hondros/AP

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.