News and Commentary

Kids Are Now Being Taught About 9/11 As Part Of History
Colour photograph of a New York Fire-fighter amid the rubble of the World Trade Centre following the 9/11 attacks. Dated 2001.
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

It has been 18 years since terrorists flew two planes into the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001. Babies born after that event are now entering college.

For those who remember where they were and what they were doing when the first plane hit, it’s hard to think of such a horrific moment in history as history, but that is precisely what it is for millions of students now.

TIME reported Tuesday on how students are being taught about such a significant moment in history. The outlet interviewed Lauren Hetrick, who teaches U.S. history in Newville, Pennsylvania. Hetrick was a sophomore when the events of 9/11 occurred, and now teaches sophomores about that day. From TIME:

Many teachers who remember what it was like to have been in school at that time use the memory to help their students connect to the topic. Hetrick, who chairs her school’s Social Studies department in Newville, Pa., shows her students the same Today show episode she watched that day. She also encourages them to listen to the stories of victims’ families and first responders recorded by StoryCorps, in hopes the personal recollections will make students more engaged “by seeing I’m truly invested in what we’re doing, seeing how much I’m caring about this, how emotional I get.”

Hetrick told the outlet that she has been teaching students about 9/11 since 2008 and used to go home and “break down” after her lessons.

“I was having a hard time detaching. [Teachers] want to form a connection, but we also need to stay professional as historians and have that little bit of detachment. It’s definitely not easy to do,” she told TIME.

The outlet reported that the event is very difficult to teach, as teachers still remember that day and the materials used to inform students are disturbing. TIME also said there is no national guideline for states on how to teach students about the event.

“A 2017 analysis of state high-school social-studies academic standards in the 50 states and the District of Columbia noted that 26 specifically mentioned the 9/11 attacks, nine mentioned terrorism or the war on terror, and 16 didn’t mention 9/11 or terrorism-related examples at all,” the outlet reported.

Another study, led by professor Jeremy Stoddard of the University of Wisconsin/Madison School Of Education, found that “the most popular method of teaching about 9/11 and the War on Terror was showing a documentary or ‘similar video,’” TIME reported.

“The next most cited method was discussing related current events. The third most mentioned approach was sharing personal stories, the way Hetrick does; Stoddard says younger teachers in particular tend to aim to get kids ‘to feel like they felt that day, to understand the shock and horror people felt that day,’” the outlet reported.

The study also found that what happened after 9/11 is not universally taught. While schools discuss the War on Terror, many don’t talk about weapons of mass destruction and for some, the descriptions of the attacks have shortened in subsequent textbook editions.

“A lot of the main themes that we saw way back in 2003 — in terms of, it’s a day of remembrance, a focus on the first responders and the heroes of the day and the actions they took, the world coming together in response to this horrible terrorist attack — a lot of those themes are still very much the way it’s being taught,” Stoddard told TIME. “Middle schools are focusing a little bit more on first responders and heroes of the day. High school is where you would probably see more of an emphasis on the causes, the events leading up to it and maybe more on the response. Highschool teachers did talk more about the Patriot Act and surveillance and some of those national-security-versus-civil-liberties types of issues.”