TEACHING students about 9/11 presents challenges – latimes.com
Students at Sun Valley Middle School look at a multimedia 9/11 memorial exhibit they helped create. The paper flag bears the names of all the victims. (Mel Melcon, Los Angeles Times / September 11, 2011)
Teaching students about 9/11 presents challenges
Many California teachers say the focus on state testing gives them little time to really explore the topic. Some say educators are hesitant because of sensitivities over religion, war and politics.
By Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times
September 10, 2011, 8:15 p.m.
It’s third period at Lawrence Middle School in Chatsworth, and social studies teacher Brent Smiley has exactly 50 minutes to cover 9/11.
He asks for memories; few of the eighth-graders have any since they were just 2 or 3 years old when the terrorists launched their attacks. He tells them Saddam Hussein was a thug who gassed his own people and that the Taliban oppresses girls. He mentions the heroes of Flight 93. He says the attacks had nothing to do with Islam any more than the Ku Klux Klan reflected Christianity. He stresses: “Not only do we have the ability to fix what’s wrong, I would argue we have an obligation … if not us, who? If not now, when?”
Lyndia Free, 13, raises her hand. “Have we ever been told what was their motive?”
Smiley glances at the clock. “Nothing I can convey in three minutes,” he says.
Time’s up. The annual lesson about 9/11 is over. And so it goes in many classrooms around the country. A decade after the Sept. 11 attacks transformed America in so many ways, numerous students say they still know very little about those events. And many educators lament that they lack the time, expertise, resources — and in some cases, the nerve — to tackle the huge, complex and controversial subject in a meaningful way.
Many organizations, including the Smithsonian Institution, the California Department of Education and the Los Angeles Unified School District, have compiled repositories of teaching resources to address key questions about the event: what happened and why, how the attacks changed America and lessons learned. One of the Smithsonian websites includes, among many other things, links to suggested lesson plans for all ages: from creating flag murals for kindergartners to exploring Islamic extremism and Afghan culture for high school students.
But at least in California, many teachers say they simply don’t have time to use much, if any, of these materials because they are urged to focus on the state’s academic standards, which are linked to high-stakes student achievement tests. Further, those standards don’t include 9/11 — or anything much beyond 1980, according to Avi Black, president of the California Council for the Social Studies.