In today's ASCD Smartbrief, the lead story's title -- "Addressing 9/11 in the classroom"--
The pain of that day-- the raw feelings, the grief at terrible loss of lives, the memory of first hearing, the disbelief -- all rush into my head at the sight of those images now on TV again. And then too remembering-- the caring, the uniting, the kindler and gentler nation we became for each other -- for a while.
On the first anniversary, I struggled with how my students and I should approach the topic in class. So complex, so many issues. They knew too well what had occurred-- the jets had scrambled over Cleveland prior to Flight 93 turning east and going down and they and their parents had seen them (I was teaching in a school near the Cleveland airport). They, as had I, watched hours of heartrending images as the tragedy unfolded. It seemed right that they should be able to express their feelings, what they knew in ways that were meaningful to them. And as it was prior to web 2.0 tools, and in the age of PowerPoint-- they did just that through emotional, beautifully composed presentations. They came to class to share, saying their parents had cried upon seeing what they created. I cried too. For those were not the meaningless PowerPoint presentations, but true expressions that captured how very deeply that day had altered their lives-- filled with images, music, and very personal thoughts.
My personal aspiration to try make a difference as we moved forward from that unspeakable day was to explore with them the subject of tolerance-- how we each could become better people in a world that was increasingly more consumed by hate. It was a class that I approached with both apprehension and a sense of possibilities, bracing myself for all possible turns the day might take. There seemed to be almost a climate of reverence that day enabled by the exercises and activities we completed together. We each looked closely at ourselves and then shared together possibilities for moving forward as a more tolerant human being -- ways we each individually and then collectively might encourage that in others. That time we spent together, in which they realized they could take some bit of control over their lives to make a difference, was pretty powerful for all of us.
Tomorrow, if you're in a classroom, I wish for you the courage that I know is needed to approach this topic in these times--- your students likely were very young in 2001; the issues are complex; feelings run high; there may be many misconceptions. I think that the director of Teaching Tolerance said it well when she wrote:
Most important, let’s keep in mind the role education plays in healing. We teach to help children recognize and overcome the hatreds, challenges and fear that—along with the ash and sorrow—became embedded in our lives ten years ago. http://www.tolerance.org/blog/bringing-911-classroom-10-years-later
Maybe, some of these resources at Teaching Tolerance, might help you in doing just that. Your lesson, your words and your countenance tomorrow will make a profound difference in so many children's lives; in so many ways just like every other day. Yet to me, this one day has the potential to stand out above the others.