Teachers have difficulty incorporating September 11 into curriculum

Teachers have difficulty incorporating September 11 into curriculum

September 10th, 2011 by Kevin Hardy in News

Principal Zacery Brown and members of the East Ridge High School JROTC salute as the American flag is raised Friday. The Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps at East Ridge High School hosted a Sept. 11 memorial on the school's football field Friday morning. Former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp and East Ridge's Mayor Brent Lambert spoke during the memorial.

Photo by Jake Daniels/Times Free Press.

Simon Parker was only in kindergarten when terrorists hijacked four jetliners and caused mass destruction in lower Manhattan, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.

Though he was only five years old at the time, Parker says some things about that day stick out in his mind.

"I just remember my dad watching the TV. Nobody was talking," the 15-year-old said. "I didn't know why, but I knew I wasn't supposed to talk."

Parker, now a sophomore at McCallie School, said the topic of Sept. 11 hasn't come up very often in his classes in the decade since the attacks.

"It's definitely talked about the week of," he said.

The horrific events of that day were no doubt the stuff of history books, but that doesn't mean the subject has found a home in many area classrooms. Ten years after terrorists orchestrated the deaths of almost 3,000 innocents, Tennessee doesn't require a lesson on Sept. 11 for students of any grade or in any subject area. Teachers are left to decide how they bring up the event, if at all.

Georgia mentions Sept. 11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in its state standards. But Dan Torrenti, chairman of the social studies department at LaFayette High School, said individual teachers usually decide how much attention to give each historical or current event.

"That's part of the problem in standardizing or trying to quantify the humanities," he said. "You're always going to have some things that don't get in there."

Increasing pressure to improve results on state standardized tests causes some teachers to put aside events like 9/11.

"There's not much freelance time to go off and spend time on a current event," he said.

Local Observance

In Hamilton County, some schools held memorial services this week and some teachers or schools created Sept. 11 activities and assignments. But teachers said the event can sometimes seem too old to be taught as a current event and too young to be taught as history.

"For most schools, particularly middle and elementary schools, if they're going to do something, they would probably do it closer to 9/11," said Gloria Moore, humanities supervisor for the Hamilton County Department of Education.

While the event will likely be required in U.S. history courses in the future, it isn't part of the state's current curriculum, Moore said. Some social studies or history textbooks include small sections on Sept. 11 or on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but there's no current requirement by the state that the subject is taught.

Textbooks, and social studies curriculum will be revised next year, when Tennessee is likely to include Sept. 11 in its state teaching standards.

"We expect any future curriculum will include a section on 9/11," said Kelli Gauthier, communications director for the Tennessee State Department of Education.

RELATED ARTICLE

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COMING UP

Today: What are schools teaching about 9/11?

-- Braves players remember playing the first sporting event in NYC after 9/11

-- Anniversary presents challenges to clergy, E1

Sunday: Forever changed: How has 9/11 change our world 10 years later? News

-- Sept. 11 attacks drive young man to join the Marines, News

-- Q&A with Chattanooga resident Gen. (Ret.) B.B. Bell, News

-- Transplanted New Yorkers now living in Chattanooga talk about their memories of 9/11, E1

-- A decade later, it's hard to say how safe we are, F1


GEORGIA REQUIREMENTS

• Fifth grade -- The student will trace important developments in America since 1975. Describe U.S. involvement in world events; include efforts to bring peace to the Middle East, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Persian Gulf War, and the War on Terrorism in response to September 11, 2001.

• U.S. History -- The student will describe changes in national politics since 1968. Analyze the response of President George W. Bush to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, on the United States, the war against terrorism, and the subsequent American interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Source: Georgia Performance Standard


HOW THEY COMMEMORATED 9/11

• Students at Signal Mountain Middle/High School commemorated the 10-year anniversary by holding a "silent fire drill," walking 2,977 steps outside to represent the number of those killed in the terrorists attacks. They followed the exercise with a writing/reflection assignment.

• Students in one Hunter Middle School class took home a timeline of Sept. 11 events and interviewed anyone 18 or older about their thoughts and emotions. They'll follow that up with a class discussion and a written summary on Monday.

• Sequoyah High School students participated in a "Patriot Day," dressing in red, white and blue. Teachers reviewed flag etiquette and asked students to display American flags at home this week. Students also completed essays and held class discussions about their memories of the day the attacks happened.

• Hixson High School held an anniversary program Friday, featuring a slideshow presentation, guest speakers, musical ensembles and a bagpipe player. The school will also display a Sept. 11 commemorative sculpture from Hixson graduate Jack Denton, who created the piece for the one-year anniversary.

• East Ridge High School Junior ROTC students hosted a commemoration ceremony Friday morning for the entire student body that included an address from former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp.

• Ooltewah High School's JROTC participated in a morning memorial service. Students commemorated the event with a flag ceremony with "Taps" played on the bugle. Throughout the day, students stood guard over a small memorial that included candles, posters and a sign with the names of all those killed on 9/11.

East Lake Elementary School teacher Pam Thompson said Sept. 11 is briefly addressed in fifth graders' 419-page history books -- a two-page section, called the "War on Terror," appears on page 398.

"It's in the very back of the book," she said.

The lesson includes information on George W. Bush's presidency and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Thompson said the subjects' placement means many teachers won't get that far by the end of school.

Elementary students are too young to remember back to 2001 and many weren't even born, she said.

"It changed things forever, but these children are living in a world where things have always been changed," Thompson said.

She acknowledged, though, that many teachers probably don't give the topic the attention it deserves.

"I know that I haven't taught it as it needs to be taught," she said.

Thompson, in her 37th year of teaching, said teachers struggle to meet state requirements on tests, which can allow events like Sept. 11 to fall off the radar. Plus, she said, some teachers might be wary to approach the subject, which is filled with violence, death and destruction.

"It's terrifying," she said. "It could really upset our younger children."

That's why it's important that teachers are prepared to reassure and instruct students in the days surrounding the 10-year anniversary, said Maureen Costello, director of Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights organization based in Montgomery, Ala.

"Our big concern is making kids feel safe, but also giving them the information to navigate the world," she said. "You can't pretend it didn't happen, but at the same time, they shouldn't have information overload."

Teaching Tolerance has published a guide to teaching Sept. 11 history this year. With a likely saturation of images and stories about the terrorist attacks in the media, Costello said few kids will be sheltered from the topic.

"This is going to land in people's laps whether they like it or not," she said. "9/11 is going to walk into every classroom this year."

John Eric Miller, a McCallie sophomore, needs little reminder of the images from that day. It's all he can remember.

"Once I got home, we never turned the TV off," he said. "It was just a constant stream of images."

Miller, 15, said he had no idea what was going on that day. But he can still remember the "general horror."

"I just saw this unbelievable, incomprehensible thing going on," he said.

Fitting It In

While most of his students have some recollection of the day that shocked the nation, LaFayette's Torrenti said he sees their interest wane as students become more distanced from the event with each passing year.

"It goes from a current event they can connect with to something they are going to have to learn about," he said.

John Daum, a philosophy, speech, journalism and world religion teacher at Central High School in Hamilton County, said he works topics like 9/11 into many of his classes.

His speech students study President Bush's addresses following the attacks. Religion students discuss the relationships between Muslims and Christians immediately following the event. His philosophy classes debate the ethics of torturing those believed to have information about national security threats.

But some students still have trouble connecting with the topic.

"It's not as significant of a day for them as it is for me. And I think that's just because their ages when it happened," he said.

Daum, 41, said he wonders if his students' reactions are similar to his own feelings about Pearl Harbor or the Vietnam War.

"These are things I've heard people talk about a lot, but I didn't experience them," he said.

He said he's noticed that more and more students consider the events of Sept. 11 to be a government conspiracy or cover-up. He estimates that as many as one-quarter of his students hold that viewpoint.

"Every year, students seem to struggle more and more with the gravity of it because they didn't live through it," he said. "They don't think the official story is what really happened."

Still, he said the ongoing wars and constant tension in the Middle East can help keep the topic relevant for students. While his courses touch a variety of themes surrounding Sept. 11, Daum said there's one message he tries to bring home to his classes.

"I try to get them to appreciate how much things have changed since then," he said, "because they don't have a sense of what things looked like before 9/11."