Portland Press Herald - Sally Reagan, a teacher at Portland High School, spends the first few sessions of her U.S. history class every year discussing the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But there was a wrinkle when she started the lessons last week.
“This year was interesting because they literally know nothing” about the attacks, she said. The juniors who take her class were infants when the attacks took place and have no memories of that day or the grief and sadness that enveloped the country for weeks after.
That emergence of a post-9/11 generation is forcing teachers all over the country to re-evaluate how and what they teach about the attacks on the country. For instance, Reagan said her students hear more about terrorism than their older brothers and sisters did, with news about attacks in the U.S. or Europe becoming unsettlingly routine. But, she said, her students now associate terrorism with ISIS, not al-Qaida. They don’t remember when a trip on the plane didn’t require a long wait in a security line, removing shoes and entering a full-body scanner.
Reagan said she tries to mix the straight history with a sense of the emotions that reverberated that day – including the very public displays of grief and people in front of their houses holding candles – as well as how quiet it was for days after because all the planes were grounded.
New York’s 9/11 museum takes a similar approach. Spokesman Michael Frazier said the museum’s workshops for older children encourage discussions about balancing national security and civil liberties. Reagan said she, too, encourages students to think about the long-term impact of the attacks, but she said that 9/11 has become history and is only a current event in terms of some of its repercussions. Like a previous generation learned about the attacks on Pearl Harbor, she said, it’s difficult to relate how it feels when the world shifts under everyone’s feet.
One of Reagan’s students, Morgan Kierstead, 16, said she knows, on an intellectual level, that the country and the world changed on that day, but said there’s a difference between grasping that idea and feeling it happen.
“We don’t have memories (of the day) and all we hear is what other people think,” she said, “so it’s hard to understand.”
Another student, A.J. Smaha, 17, said he gets the sense that, to him, relating this year’s Orlando nightclub massacre to his younger siblings or children will be like his parents telling him about 9/11. There’s a big difference, he said, between living through an event and a more sterile retelling of it years later.
“When any of us have children, they won’t feel the same way we do about it,” he said.