What should teachers be discussing with their students to mark the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks?

It may seem like a simple question, but a report just issued by the nonprofit Thomas B. Fordham Institute explains why it has become a complicated issue — and why some of the lessons being given by teachers across the country are missing the point.

Chester E. Finn Jr., the author of the introduction to the report, which is entitled “Teaching about 9/11 in 2011: What Our Children Need to Know,” writes that too many teachers are giving lessons that give short shrift to the history of the event and the way American society has changed as a result.

Instead, he said, teachers are being asked to concentrate on issues including multiculturalism and tolerance that have a role in the larger narrative but are not sufficient to tell the whole story.

“What one wants to know, however, is whether the rest of the curriculum is there, too: the civics part, the history part, the harsher lessons about how difficult it is to safeguard American values from those who despise them in an increasingly menacing world,” he wrote.

Finn also wrote, “It does not exaggerate to say that the conventional wisdom on these topics that is being dispensed mirrors neither the values held by most Americans nor the innate love of democracy — and sense of accuracy and fair play — that animates most teachers,” he wrote.

The Fordham report includes a series of essays that Finn says get to the heart of the real 9-11 lessons.

I’d be interested in hearing what is happening in your schools.

Meanwhile, many organizations have put together resources for teachers and parents to talk with young people about the events of Sept. 11, some better than others. The U.S. Department of Education put together a list of resources, with this disclaimer:

“911 Materials for Teachers

Disclaimer — These materials were developed by federal grantees and agencies in commemoration of the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001. The materials are provided as a convenience for teachers and others seeking resources for teaching about September 11. ED does not control or guarantee the accuracy, relevance, timeliness, or completeness of these materials, nor does the inclusion of links to these materials represent an endorsement of these materials or organizations that created them.”

The disclaimer language, said a department employee who did not want to be identified because the subject is apparently sensitive, is legal boilerplate for materials the department does not generate itself. Why the Education Department would put out resources that it could not verify on this particular subject is another issue.

You might think that the first resource on the department’s list would be about the history of the event and a remembrance of those who lost their lives. Nope. The first item is this:

“Positive School Climate and 911 — Resources for helping create and maintain a positive school climate and preventing bullying, harassment, and discrimination. [MS Word, 41K]”

Here are some resources that teachers and parents may find useful.

In Remembrance: Teaching September 11 — Here’s a roundup of resources from across the web for teaching, learning about and remembering September 11. It includes primary source archives and strategies for teaching emotionally charged” subjects. (Provided by the National History Education Clearinghouse)”

The Smithsonian Institute offers K-12 lessons here.

And records from the 9-11 Commission (which issued a report on how/why Sept. 11 happened and made recommendations to ensure the country’s safety, can be accessed here.

A range of lesson options is available here from the School Library Journal.

National Geographic offers Remembering 9-11 here.

I have confidence these resources will be helpful. No disclaimer needed.


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