How do you teach kids about 9/11?
A story on my local NPR station this morning reminded me of something I’d not yet really been aware of: kids up to 8th grade don’t really remember 9/11. A Muslim school in the Chicago area learned this a few years ago when social studies students in the 5th and 6th grade weren’t able to complete an essay on where they were on 9/11. Khawaja Rizwan Kadir, a parent, says, that “after 9/11, Muslim-Americans were so busy trying to explain themselves to non-Muslims that they didn’t realize that, some day, they'd have to explain 9/11 to their own [kids].”
Teachers realized that they’d have to start teaching about 9/11, but how they’d do it, they found, would be a challenge.
Students at the school, which began explicitly teaching that extremism is wrong after 9/11, struggled to understand Osama bin Laden’s role in the attacks. After a 45 minute presentation, one student asked, “How is it possible that Osama bin Laden flew those planes into the World Trade Center, got out of those burning planes, got out of the burning building in the midst of the policemen and everything, went back to Afghanistan, and then was captured and killed 10 years later?”
I don’t have kids of my own and am not a teacher, so the thought that students would have to read about 9/11 in a history book the way I studied Pearl Harbor Day or the election of President Kennedy. escaped me. In fact in another 10 years, 9/11 will be as far behind us for an 8-year-old as MLK’s assassination was for me at the same age.
It’s hard to imagine how 9/11 will be taught in schools. Despite that the facts of what happened on 9/11 are clear and agreed upon (conspiracy theories aside), the event and the country’s response are so fraught with political and religious tension, I wonder how history lessons will affect kids’ perceptions of that day.
So, those of you with young children in your life, how do you answer their questions about 9/11? What do you tell them when they ask difficult questions?