- Paula Cristina Azevedo, PhD
The importance of teaching about 9/11
In one week we will remember the events of 9/11. It is hard to believe that 17 years ago in just a few minutes our world permanently changed. With each passing year the pain may lessen just a little bit, but the trauma of that day and the aftermath that unfolded the days, months and years continue to linger in our bodies, hearts, minds, and souls. Perhaps, even changing the DNA of the America we knew. The anniversary conjures up painful memories. For many the day is about an acute personal loss, pain, and suffering. However, no matter if you were in New York City, Washington, D.C., or rural Pennsylvania we all continue to mourn the loss of life and loss of America’s innocence. We try our best to live in remembrance of those that made the ultimate sacrifice on 9/11 and later on the battlefields across the world.
As mindfulness and meditation practitioners the anniversary of 9/11 is a day that reminds each of us that there is suffering, we should face our fears with love, and to walk each day on the path of peace. In addition, as educators we recognize the enormous responsibility that we have when teaching students about 9/11, which comes with its own set of challenges, such as the difficulty of the topic, the various controversial issues that may arise, students’ lack of knowledge or even misconceptions about 9/11, parents pushing back, and a lack of professional development on how to approach difficult topics with students. Not to mention, we lived through the tragedy and many of us continue to live with the impacts of 9/11 in our daily lives, which makes teaching about 9/11 that much more personal and heart wrenching.
Students currently enrolled in PK-12 were not alive (or were just infants) on 9/11 and
have no memory of the events. I have students in graduate school, who were alive, but were too young to remember much, and in a few years I will have students who were not alive that day (pretty wild). As a result, our students no longer know what the world was like prior to 9/11. Each year schools across the United States hold a moment of silence and there may be some additional ceremony, but students are unaware of what the moment of silence is for. However, students are curious about these events and the aftermath. They want to know what was at stake at that time and continues to be debated about due to 9/11. As a result, it is our duty as educators, but more importantly as witnesses to 9/11 to talk about the national tragedy in age appropriate ways. It doesn’t mean we have to show graphic videos of the events or dissect every decision made by world leaders. The conversations and lessons can range from talking about the importance of search and rescue dogs, the health hazards in the aftermath, to debating about individuals rights and liberties versus national security.
There are wonderful resources available for educators and students about 9/11. I will list some below for you to take a look at as you prepare for next week’s lessons. Just be sure that as you prepare for the difficult lessons and discussion on 9/11 that you take care of yourself. That you are well prepared not only for the lesson, but for the emotions that may arise throughout the day.
Remember your mindfulness practices will support you through these difficult emotions. As an uncomfortable thought or emotion arises be present with it. You are always in control on how far you want to feel or even investigate the emotion. You can dip your toe into the emotion that may arise and if you feel you are about to lose control or be in too much pain step out of the emotion and memory by focusing on your breath, the bottom of your feet or your hands. Remind yourself that you are safe; you are in control; and you are loved. On the other hand, if you feel comfortable with your emotional state you can take a moment and be curious about how the emotion feels in your body. Investigate it with curiosity and with no judgement. You may even want to gently place one or both hands on your heart. Such a simple touch can reconnect you to your compassion and the nature of your good heart.
Teaching about 9/11 is not easy for the reasons I described and many more, but we have a deep responsibility to inform our students of what life was like before 9/11, the facts of 9/11, how our lives are forever changed, and most importantly to teach them about love, compassion, and how to be a helpful citizen during times of peace and prosperity and at our darkest hours.
I send you light and love as you prepare and teach about 9/11.
Rhodes, J.P. (2016). Towers Falling . New York, NY: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
9/11 Memorial & Museum: Teach + Learn
National Education Association: Teaching about 9/11
9/11 Tribute Museum: Teaching 9/11