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Commemorating 9/11 in the Classroom

Teaching About Terrorism

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Teachers are faced with a tough decision during the first weeks of September: how do they deal with the anniversary of the tragic September 11th terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center? Many schools are creating programs to remember the horrific events as a group. Others, however, are allowing individual teachers to decide how best to approach the topic. Following are some ideas for teachers who wish to devote some time to remembering the 9/11 tragedy along with some information on teaching about terrorism.

Ideas for Remembering the 9/11 Tragedy in the Classroom

  • Writing
    • Have students create personal journals reflecting on their feelings and how they've changed since 9/11/01.
    • Have students write about what makes someone a hero.
    • Have students write about the war America is fighting against terrorism. What are their feelings about the war?
    • Have students write an essay with the theme, "The 9/11 Tragedy shows the best and the worst of humanity."
  • Discussion/Debate
    • Discuss the passengers of Flight 93 and the firefighters/rescue workers.
    • Have a classroom discussion about people's reactions during tragedies. Talk about the positives (those who helped) and the negatives (those who took advantage).
    • Have students interview people who were alive when Pearl Harbor was bombed and compare their feelings to the students feelings today.
    • Have students hold a closely monitored classroom discussion about stereotypes and the problems with them.
    • Hold a debate about photojournalism and the appropriate use of photographs after a tragedy such as 9/11.
    • Discuss how safe students feel today compared to before 9/11/01.
  • Artistic/Creative
    • Create a classroom collage/mosaic on newsprint that can be hung up in the classroom remembering the tragedy.
    • Have a contest where students create their own 'monument' commemorating the event out of any medium (drawing, clay, etc.). The class then chooses the best.
    • Have students create a poem/song/drawing to express their feelings about the tragedy.
    • Have students design a flag for world peace. Have the class vote on the best design.
  • Lesson Ideas
    • Have Middle High School students complete the activity, " Scapegoating" about prejudice and discrimination from the Anti-Defamation League.
    • Have Senior High School students complete the activity " The Pyramid of Alliance," from the Anti-Defamation League. This activity deals with bigotry.
  • Getting Students Involved
    • Have students write letters to the soldiers who are fighting against terrorism overseas. Then send the letters. They can send letters to:

      U.S. Military Personnel
      384 ELS/POL
      APO AE 09317

    • Have students help get Afghanistan students school supplies and teachers by donating to UNICEF as a class.
    • Hold a volunteering contest.
    • Have students raise donations for Afghan children.

Teaching About Terrorism

As we teach about terrorism, it is important to remember that we still need to think about our actions and how they might affect our students. While many of the wounds have healed, many have not. Many families are still mourning, some are afraid for family members who are fighting overseas. Security has visibly increased in many places. Officials are saying that it will be a long fight. Therefore, students might still have many fears and issues. How do we deal with this?

We can only try to be open and listen to what our students are saying. Don't say sentences such as : "It could have been worse." Instead, you can focus on the positives that have come out of the experience (increased feeling of solidarity, increased awareness). Also, try to stay away from phrases like, "I know how you feel." Instead, you could express that you understand their feelings and then share your own. These are simple Active Listening techniques that are useful in all of teaching: allowing silence, maintaining eye contact, paraphrasing, reflecting feelings, etc.

One discussion that as teachers we must closely monitor deals with discussions about other groups. For example, if students start talking about Muslims as a group, it is your job as the teacher to point out that this was not a 'group' affair but the actions of a minority of Muslims. This is a great time to discuss the problems with applying stereotypes to groups of people. The best example to use with high schoolers is to discuss way teenagers are treated today. Many teenagers feel that they are treated unfairly because of their age. This is, of course, the same complaint that teenagers have had for as long as can be remembered. Discuss why people do this (misunderstandings, dress, piercings, news reports, etc.) to help them not only understand the reason for their treatment but also why it is important not to unfairly judge others because of the actions of a few.

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