Written by Eagle Forum
Ten years after the tragedy of 9/11, many schools do not mention the terrorist attacks in their social studies classes. Schools are now filled with many children who were too young to remember 9/11 or who weren't even born yet. If they are not taught in school, some of these children will grow up without an adequate understanding of one of the most significant events of the past decade.
"It is, for better or worse, one of the defining moments of contemporary history," said Clifford Chanin, acting education director for the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. "I think it is essential that the event be studied and understood. . . . It's now a factor in what the world has become and what it will become. You've got to prepare students for some relationship with 9/11 and its consequences."
Diana Hess is a professor of curriculum and instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who thinks that teachers largely overlook the subject of 9/11. "I think if we did a really good, large-scale study . . . we would find that 9/11 is not in most social studies classes."
Many states leave the 9/11 terrorist attacks completely out of their state standards for high school social studies. Although 48 states and the District of Columbia have revised their standards since 2001, only 20 states made changes to include 9/11 specifically. Of those 20 states, some include 9/11 as a content standard while others include it only as a substandard or an example. Another 15 states do not mandate specific coverage of the 9/11 attacks, but do include terrorism or some aspect of the U.S. war on terror. A total of 14 states do not make any mention of 9/11 or terrorism at all.
What is being taught about 9/11 varies greatly from state to state. For example, Louisiana and Oklahoma state standards call for coverage of domestic and foreign terrorism such as the Oklahoma City Bombing and 9/11. Massachusetts calls for a description of America's response to 9/11 and its wider consequences. Michigan standards go into more detailed coverage of 9/11, including America's response to terrorism, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how the attack has altered America and her policies. Texas state standards go so far as to require that students understand radical Islamic fundamentalism and that students be able to explain the U.S. response to terrorism from 9/11 to present. Virginia requires students to explain 9/11 in light of George Bush's presidency and the impact on foreign policy. Standards in Washington State require students to weigh the validity of 9/11 being the sole cause of the War on Terror, while standards in New Jersey require only an analysis of the reasons for terrorism and its impact.
Even after ten years, many teachers still find it hard to teach 9/11 to students who don't know anything about it. The 9/11 attacks and subsequent wars can easily bring up controversial subjects and differing viewpoints that some teachers do not want to delve into. Some teachers shy away from subjects such as "foreign policy, the balance between civil liberties and homeland security, or issues about Islam," says Robert Watterson, director of West Virginia University's Center for Democracy and Citizenship Education.
The controversy over curriculum began at the one-year anniversary of 9/11 in 2002 when the National Education Association (NEA) launched a website providing teachers with lesson plans for teaching 9/11. Those lessons were criticized by many as being sympathetic towards the enemy.
Plenty of other resources are now available from universities and non-profit organizations. Officials in New Jersey have created a 9/11 curriculum to be used by teachers voluntarily, and the National September 11 Memorial and Museum is working with school districts to create 9/11 curriculum as well.
Yet some of the proposed lesson plans may still be unsuitable if they are anything like what is already available. Diana Hess of UW-Madison, and Jeremy Stoddard, associate professor of education at the College of William and Mary, evaluated currently available curricula and found that "a lot of it was really cursory and lacked the specific detail you would see in the rest of the text on other things, and we saw that as bizarre. For the most part, they didn't want to engage kids in any kind of controversy about 9/11." (Education Week, 9-4-02 and 8-31-11)