By Peter Levine, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Peter Levine is the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs and director of CIRCLE, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, part of Tufts University’s Jonathan Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service. Levine has published eight books, including “The Future of Democracy: Developing the Next Generation of American Citizens.” He blogs daily at www.peterlevine.ws
(CNN) – I can vividly remember September 11, 2001, but today’s fifth-graders were not even born on that day. For them, September 11 is history – and often, a topic in their history class. Most teachers use best-selling civics and American history textbooks that describe the attacks on New York and Washington. And as of last fall, 21 states specifically mentioned 9/11 in their social studies standards.
Those are results from a scan of state laws and textbooks conducted by William & Mary professor Jeremy Stoddard and University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Diana Hess. My organization, CIRCLE, published its study last year. The authors tell me that not much has changed since then.
When we released the study, many readers expressed dismay that September 11 was mentioned in less than half of the states’ standards - as if that meant that policymakers and educators did not care enough about terrorism. When lawmakers are concerned about any topic, they are often tempted to add it to the state’s social studies standards. The Illinois Legislature, for instance, has passed bills requiring or encouraging social studies teachers to spend time on Leif Erickson, the Irish Potato Famine and the importance of trees and birds. So why not mandate teaching 9/11?
If I could personally pick what to teach in a high school classroom, I would make the civil rights movement a particularly high priority. The Southern Poverty Law Center gives 35 states as grade of “F” because their standards do not mention the civil rights movement (or only barely mention it). But just because something is important does not mean that states should require all their teachers to cover it. Already, most state social studies standards are immense lists of topics, far too numerous to march through rapidly, let alone discuss in any depth. Specifying topics reduces the discretion of districts, schools and teachers, and may dampen their motivation.
Thus the most important back-to-school question about September 11 is not whether to require it in standards, but how to address it if teachers decide to discuss it at all.
We want our students to understand complex and significant events in context, to make and defend causal arguments, to form reasonable value judgments and to deliberate civilly and responsibly with people who disagree. These are intrinsically valuable aspects of citizenship. They are also activities that boost civic knowledge and engagement.
The attacks of 9/11 represent a serious topic, worthy of study. One reason to consider teaching it is that it happened relatively recently, and its consequences linger. Since American history is usually taught in chronological order, most teachers never reach modern times at all. Meanwhile, courses in government and civics tend to emphasize the original structure of the Constitution rather than current events. In a survey of young adults that we conducted in 2006, 41% recalled studying the Constitution and the U.S. system of government; only 11% remembered discussing current issues.
In our focus groups, young adults recall that their civics education was all about the remote past. As a result, politics can seem distant and complete, as if there were little for today’s students to do.
September 11 is by no means the only recent episode worthy of attention, but it is a good topic for investigation. If students are going to spend class time on it, I think the following principles should apply.
First, their thinking should be relatively dispassionate and scholarly. The major textbooks have evolved in that direction over the past decade. The first textbook editions rushed to press after the events of 2001 “uniformly presented America as the victim of a uniquely devastating attack and presented rich personal stories of the victims and iconic images of rubble, firefighters, and the American flag. That approach has now shifted to more dispassionate, but very brief, descriptions.”
Even though September 11 remains charged with emotion, students should learn to investigate it in a scholarly way, with concern for evidence and multiple perspectives. That takes time; it is probably better to skip a topic entirely than to mention it superficially.
Second, students should grapple with complex and sometimes contentious issues. For example, the attacks of September 11 are clearly examples of terrorism, but that concept is not so easy to define. If it means a violent attack by civilians against civilians, then the definition excludes roadside bombs aimed at U.S. military convoys and the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole (which several textbooks cite as an example of terrorism). If terror includes any mass attack against civilians, then a strategic bombing campaign conducted by an air force is an example. The point is not that students should memorize the correct definition of terrorism, but that they should learn to reason and deliberate by addressing difficult questions, such as “What is terrorism?”
That is a controversial and divisive issue, which brings us to a third principle. Students should have experience addressing truly controversial topics, with guidance from teachers who try to serve as neutral facilitators. As a nation, we must learn to deal with disagreement. As we segregate into politically homogeneous communities and choose media that reinforce our own opinions, the social studies classroom is becoming an increasingly valuable space in which people can actually disagree and learn from their discussions. Even if there is consensus about September 11, many controversial questions arise regarding its aftermath. For example, were the Patriot Act, the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan and the Iraq war appropriate responses? These are questions that students should learn to investigate and deliberate.
Concerns about bias and indoctrination come from both right and left. I think conservatives have relatively little to worry about, because most social studies teachers hold moderate or center-right views. According to an American Enterprise Institute survey, 83% of social studies teachers see “the United States as a unique country that stands for something special in the world” and “just 1 percent of teachers want students to learn ‘that the U.S. is a fundamentally flawed country.’ ” Liberals may not disagree with the majority of teachers, but if they do, they should still welcome discussion and inquiry, counting on students to introduce a diversity of perspectives.
If teachers do introduce controversial matters in class, some may present the issues in a biased way. Teachers need curricula, materials and training that help them present issues more neutrally. But I would rather accept a few cases of bias (including bias against my own political views) than make schools into politics-free zones. We need young people to learn to think and talk about difficult issues.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Peter Levine.
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We should honor the dead by having moments of silence throughout the day, and even though my school nevr even says anything we should still do something special on this day to rember. i want to go to the new tower when it has been consturctied. i hope next year my school will actualy rember what day is and have posters with the names on them that way we rember.
do you mean remember?
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If you're going to teach about 9/11, you might as well go whole hog. Teach about how the U.S. sponsored/enabled oppressive regimes in the middle east through black ops programs after it discovered the strategic and financial value of establishing interests there during the North African campaigns of WWII. Teach about the "if we can't win their hearts and minds, we can put a bullet in their heads", slogans among foreign operatives and military during the Salvador Allende and Vietnam bad ole' days that extended to the broad-stroke treatment of noncombatant inhabitants of places overseas where the U.S. has intervened. (You can start by having them research the Ponce Massacre, an atrocity perpetrated by the U.S. government in Puerto Rico, AFTER it imposed U.S. citizenry on the population, something it would NEVER dare do in Texas, which has been contemplating secession forever). THEN ask them why they think the terrible 9/11 tragedy came to pass.
lol! Your suggesting that children learn the truth about the way this world works and have a knowledge base that would actually encourage some independent thought. Thats heresy in our "school"system. But I would be on board. Its a beautiful dream. Much love. Thanks for a little common sense in the sea of mediocrity we have in place when comes to teaching and LEARNING in this country today. I say home school. Only way your kids will ever be exposed to a true education. The system in place is working out perfectly to plan. I want my kids experience greatness. The schools are designed to squash any chance of that. So watered down "mentions" of 911, the single most significant event that has shaped everything since . Well thatll do for average Americans. Wouldnt want them given a subject to provoke IDEAS
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Whether or not you believe it was an "inside" job along with the terrorism or if you just believe it was for sure just the terrorist themselves that commited such an act, the point is what we teach our children. There is a lot about our history that isn't taught as well as it should. For example the Civil Rights Movement. They may touch on it, but not clearly enough to really educate the students that need to hear it especially for the African American community. Along with the schools though the parents and families should be teaching their children about different events that have happened to our country as well as to a people as well. The first and best educator for a child is the parent. I do believe that 9-11 should be apart of our education system because it was act against America and killed a lot of innocent people. It had effect on not just our country as well.
Teach children the lost art of critical thinking. That skill seems to have been lost on most Americans today.
I think 9/11 is a good civics lesson. The night of September 11, President Bush told us not to be afraid, that government offices would be open the next day, that, even in this tragedy, we had not lost our freedom. Lines strung around New York to donate blood. Young Americans need to know that no matter what threat or tragedy strikes our nation, we need not be afraid. We need to keep hope and to start working to help our country in a time of need.
I absolutely agree! Educating our children from a young age in civics is so fundamentally important. I'm a mother of two young sons, ages 8 and 4 and while we do shelter them at this age from some of the harshest news, we have always included them in discussing what is happening in the news now to how we became America to begin with. As far as 9/11 last year was the first year I explained to my then 7-year-old what happened on 9/11 we showed some basic pictures from the newspaper and read a fantastic book called "September 12, we knew we would be alright" it was written and illustrated in 2001 by elementary students. This year we again read the book talked in greater detail, and showed video footage of the planes crashing and towers collapsing. I plan to continue educating our children in this manner as it is more in depth then the average prek and second grade curriculums.
This is the first year we have talked about 9/11 at our small Montessori School in Boca Raton, Florida. This came as a result of my attending a wonderful teacher development program this summer in NYC, which was sponsored through Facing History Facing Ourselves in conjunction with the 9/11 Tribute Center. The main focus at the workshop was using oral history, so we started today in our 12 to 15 year old class with watching two of the "oral histories" featured in the Tribute Center's education toolkit. In our 9 to 12 year old class, students discussed what they knew about 9/11 and were given a small amount of information, then asked to go home and start by asking their parents a question about their experience of 9/11. What I like about the focus of the Tribute Center's oral histories, and how Facing History approached this, is that if expands the vision of history and its interface with personal perspective, but also with a vision to help students see tragedy as an opportunity for personal transformation, as well an opportunity to rise above hate and intolerance.
I think they should, my new school doesn't even talk about the whole 9/11 topic at all.
They haven't figured out how to handle Vietnam yet. They'll be totallly clueless on 9/11.
It is so true, that is why parents need to be more involved in their children's education. Learning doesn't stop at school discuss what's happening in your local, state, and US news on a level appropriate for your children. And by all means help them to understand the impact events in our history such as these have on the generation of kids going through it, who will one day be our congress, senate, political leaders when the next "big event" happens. So important for our children to understand how we became America and how each event since our birth as a country has been shaped and changed by them.
Most schools have not even learned how to handle Pearl Harbor truthfully.
I believe the incident on 9/11/01 is too impactful to be glossed over in a text or classroom setting as part of a lesson plan. Where do you stop? With the loss of civil liberties directly after it? the continued losses this year? the expensive 'war on terror' that has so damaged our country? Even its aftermath is too complex a topic, forget trying to explain the motivations.
While it should not be ignored, I'm unsure how one would go about teaching it without sacraficing so much information that it gets dumbed down to "the civil war was about slavery" misinformation.
My daughter was 4 months old on 9/11/01 and we wanted her to learn about what happened so we purchased special editions of the Dallas Morning News that day and for several days afterward. She took those newspapers to her History teacher yesterday and today he is using them in all his classes to teach all of his students about 911.
They should discuss 9/11, as well as every other false flag operation that has occurred throughout history.
Prove it or join the ranks of moon landing conspiracy theorists.
Prove to me a plane crashed into the pentagon. I want pictures. The best defended building in the world, and we only captured a few images that show no plane? There is evidence. Where is yours? Oh yeah you have none, so you just call me a conspiracy theorist. I'll take that as a compliment since I know you meant critical thinker.
Chris you idiot. thats all i got to say to you. oh yes the pentagon decided to randomly blow up part of their building. 11 years ago, we relaxed, nothing was going wrong. even the military was relaxed so open your big head and research it if you must have proof there are a ton of heart wrenching stories and images, get off your lazy butt and look. open your eyes.
iola why dont you get off your lazy butt and do some research. our government has done this before. there is no evidence of a plane hitting the pentagon. no wreckage. lookup operation northwoods, a proposal to our president JFK to attack and our own military/civilians and place the blame on cuba. its called a false-flag operation.
EDUCATE YOURSELVES, UNLESS YOU WANT IT TO HAPPEN AGAIN.
I'm not a 'truther', but something just doesn't add up about 9/11.
What about building 7?
Why should schools even consider telling kids about 9/11? What's the point? Let's focus on actually EDUCATING these kids first, and then worry about stuff like this after.
This is part of education. Its clear you didn't receive one, but for the benefit of future generations 9/11 needs to be covered.
9/11 is an important historic event. Not just for America but around the globe. Its epact included two wars, the creation of new federal law enforcement agencies, new domestic laws that impact personal freedoms and security and numerous other examples. How is learning about this GLOBAL event not considered educational?
Should we stop teaching about pearl harbor too? How about Hitler and the Nazis?
Great idea. Lets teach them about Creationism, the benefits of slavery, and why women should not be allowed to vote.
Because 9/11 is now a crucial part of American history just as the world wars, the civil war, Vietnam. Our world compleatly shifted and changed dramatically forever because of 9/11. Civics, history are just as important as math, reading, writing, the arts. Quite simply it says who we are, where we've been, why we are the way we are, and what our future might look like. History repeats itself it is wise and prudent to teach the lawmakers and politicians of the next generation Americas story.
Like everything else in history or the news or science. Present the facts and only the facts and let the students form an opinion. That used to be how kids were taught and news was presented. You were told the facts, as known, and were expected to THINK and form your own opinion. Is that not allowed anymore? It dosent matter if Kim k, snookie or jay z dosent have an opinion on the subject. Myabe we can use this topic to put a stop to the dumbing down of America that seems to be in full swing these days.
please read david ray griffin's several books on the subject of 9/11 truth, as important now as it was 11 years ago.
revisionist history? it tell the truth that bush and cheny flew the airplanes in the buildings? some people will believe anything photoshoped on a youtube vid.
To the conspiracy theorists: Wrong, steel structures do collapse. Heard of the I35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis?
Modern steel structures are designed with a relatively small factor of safety. Unfortunately, when a single connection or member fails, depending on the design, the remaining structure may or may not be capable of carrying the extra load.
A concrete slab floor supported by steel framing is designed to support itself and a live load. It is not designed to support an impact load of other floors landing on it.
A column is designed to support all of the load above it, provided it is properly laterally braced (typically at each floor).
Remove a floor or two, and the column capacity is reduced. If the column fails, the floors above fall, and the floors below will not stop them.
we are discussing buildings, not bridges. no skyscraper has collapsed due to fire. simple fact.
Wrong building 7 the fire made it collapse into its foundation
No it didn't. Demolition experts claim WTC 7 fell like a controlled demolition...hell even the towers fell in the same manner.
Fires historically have not taken down skyscrapers. WTC 7 ( and the towers) was designed to take massive damage from planes, bombs, etc and not collapse. There are several interviews from the architects/designers of WTC 7 claiming the near invincibility ( as far as a collapse goes) of the building because of its design.
What happened on 9/11 is part of our history now and should be taught to our children. My son was born on 9/6/2001 and was just 5 days old and he knows what happened on 9/11. As his parents we felt it to be important to inform him, as he part of the generation that has lived his 11yrs during a time of war.
Forget about teaching about 9/11. Schools should be teaching about Gettysburg, Pearl Harbor, Spanish American War and French-American War. Just like with most things as the days go by people will forget about 9/11 just like the have forgotten the above mention historical incidents. If you really want to remember 9/11 instead of spending a billion dollars on a memorial they should have taken that money and donated it the libraries, schools, etc. Do something good that will provide a lasting memory to lose who died instead of memorial that just becomes another home for pigeons.
How can history teachers ignore this? It was a turning point in relations with the middle east and Muslims here in our country. It was a "reason" for attacking Iraq. The economic implications of this event are astronomical. This is history at its pinnacle.
Actually, the "official story" is that the 1991-2001 (and now 1991-2012) war against the Arabs of Iraq is part of the reason why Arabs carried out the 9/11/2001 attack.
Of course, anyone who believes the "official story" is nuts.
All of your examples were taught in my history classes. YOU also seem to know about them. Your case is weak….very weak.
It must be tough for teacher who lived through this event to teach it as history. My brother is a history teacher, and he can teach on the Civil War and WWII without any kind of prejudices or opinions. I'm interested to hear how this ends up in his curriculum. Any teachers out there teaching this now, not as a mini-lesson but a unit? How are you approaching it?
Opinions vary too greatly for this to be taught in a classroom. This is a topic that should be left to families to discuss with their children. Is it the public schools job to teach a uniform opinion to our school children? If you explore the topic critically eventually it will come up whether our countries support of Israel might have been a factor leading to the tragedy of Sept 11. I think we all know how even suggesting such a thing will get alot of people in this country very upset.
Opinion? Fact: On September 11th, 2001, the World Trade Center was hit by two airplanes that were hijacked, which was a catastrophe against American civilians, and for many people throughout the world. Fact: Foreign policy and military policy changed as a result. History teachers teach history. That's what this is. This is not a matter of opinion. This is not a "Why did they do this?" question. This is a "What happened" question.
US foreign policy did not change in response to 9/11/2001. It changed when the war team rigged the 2000 election to put itself in office.
Ignore the uninformed 9/11 conspiracy theorists on these posts.
Please then inform us how 3 skyscrapers fell due to fire, when it has never happened prior to 9/11? Also, explain how there is no pictures of a plane hitting the pentagon, nor is there any wreckage? And then tell us how United 93 crashed and left literally nothing? Then again, the government can't even explain it, so how could you.
The steel of the tower does not melt; however the steel did expand by the rising temperature, weakening the support of the towers. Furthermore, what appear to be bombs in windows of tower is really air fill with dust that pressed down by the towers.
Also there is a hole in the wall inside the pentagon. If I remember right, this was formed by a fireball that created by the crash of the airplane in the pentagon building.
LOL, great explanations. This would be the first time a skyscraper has fallen due to fires. 3 fell on 9/11. 0 before that.
Well your not remembering right at all
One of the Young Autistic Men
Sure the puffs of dust were from pressure of the build , we've all seen that youtube video
Schools Should Tell the Truth, 911 Was An Inside Job
Steel Structures Don't Just Collapse, The Only Time That Steel Structures Have Ever Supposedly Collapsed Was On
9/11/2001. Steel Structures Have Burnt for Days and Never Collapsed, go to YouTube and Watch Videos of Steel Sky Scrapers that have Burnt for Two Days or More and they Never Collapsed. http://bit.ly/OnTZKU
The Patriot Army – Info Wars – Prison Planet – 911 Was An Inside Job
the planes crashing into the tower was a terrorist attack but the building itself would not have collapsed as it did which i do feel was an inside job, the building collapsed inwards not outwards if it was caused by the planes the buildings would have falling outward but instead collapsed on themselves? yea
Actually you're wrong, the WTC never even existed. The entire building was an imaginary manifestation contrived by the CIA so that they could stage the entire thing and cause the US to go to war in the Middle East so that they could all get new camels for free.
Seriously, the more times I read this post the more I realize that you truly have no concept of Physics. Yes, the planes hit the buildings, but, if you knew anything about the concept of momentum, you would know that these enormous buildings could easily absorb the impact, and that the fact that the buildings' facade had many windows means that the structure was not a completely rigid body, so much of the energy did not translate into the buildings' structures.
Just because someone posts a video on YouTube does not mean that the video is accurate.
Thank you for your well thought out argument. The problem is, you may have more luck telling that to a tree then this guy.
So, you favor a "neutral" approach. So your bias is you like being neutral. So, your bias should stand. Hypocrite.
"Neutral- Not aligned with or supporting any side or position in a controversy"
Would you kindly explain to me how having no support for one side or the other is considered a bias? You sound as if you have no idea what the word "bias" even means.
Steel Structures Don't Just Collapse, The Only Time That Steel Structures Have Ever Supposedly Collapsed Was On 9/11/2001. Steel Structures Have Burnt for Days and Never Collapsed, go to YouTube and Watch Videos of Steel Sky Scrapers that have Burnt for Two Days or More and they Never Collapsed. http://bit.ly/OnTZKU
The Patriot Army – Info Wars – Prison Planet – 911 Was An Inside Job
I think most of American history could be considered a controversial issue in the classroom.
What happened on 9/11 and subsequently as a result should definitely be taught and more importantly "discussed" in all of our schools. It is as fundamental a apart of U.S. history as the American Revolution, the World Wars, the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement, etc.
I agree with the author that it should not be politicized but rather addressed as a scholarly topic which continues to affect us today.
My suggestion is instead of a standardized test across the board for students in evaluating the teachers, do a standardize test per student to see how much they learn from one year to another and put them into courses that they will achive in so learning would be fun.
I think it is a good idea for schools to talk about 9/11
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