When I woke up today I realized something… Today I was going to be teaching the last group of students I’ll have who were alive on September 11, 2001. That hit me hard. That is significant. Most of my 8th graders were born in 2001. I actually have a student that was born on 9/11. Earlier this year she and her family went to NYC and visited the 9/11 Memorial. It was a big deal for her. Many of my 7th graders were a few months from being born. One funny moment from the day as kids were sharing some personal, family or friend connections they had to that date… A student was sharing that on 9/11 his mom was having an ultrasound prior to when he was due to be born because “…I was being diagnosed with being…born.” He paused and realized he got caught up in his words and laughed. “We were all diagnosed with being born!” So, there were lots of incredible personal connections. Another student lost her uncle on 9/11. One student had parents who worked in the Towers. Her mom wasn’t feeling well one day while she was pregnant (with this student!) and so her dad was running late to work. He stopped to get coffee and donuts and that’s what saved him from being in the World Trade Center when it was hit.
Anyway, I told my 8th graders that they’re the last group I’ll teach that was alive and present (though they may not have the memories) for this significant event in our country’s history. I told them that it significant because everyone that comes behind them will have zero connection to that date. That was why we took time to talk about it.
I shared about where I was that day (my senior year of high school in Connecticut in a theater class with no tv). We looked at the headlines of the New York Times both print and web. The headlines from earlier in the day on 9/11 before the morning tragedy were drastically different from what was on the web hours later (link to those pages are at this link). What stuck out to me personally were the links to lists of planes that were involved so families could find out if their loved ones happened to be on those specific flights and the links to transit info as the local stations/roads were closed, blood donation centers and other emergency info. We looked at the front page of the paper on the 10 days following and how wording and images changed.
This particular front page I spent some time on and we spoke about images and how powerful they are. We talked about the fact that we sometimes become desensitized to them. I told them how I feel when I see it and it stirs up very specific and real emotions within me because I remember how I felt that day seeing that happen. We talked about how differently someone from New York City or DC or PA who lived 9/11 up close would react very differently to seeing images and video like that compared to how someone from North Carolina or California would react. Of course they would feel strong emotions and heartache at the shock and recollection of that day but those who lived it have a much more raw emotion attached to it. I asked them to remember seeing these pictures and that they are real. Sure they look like something we’d expect to see on tv or a movie with special effects for a great explosion but it is not. There are real people involved, real people hurt and killed, real emotion attached to it.
We also looked at this wonderful slideshow that the Times put together called “What We Kept”. It shares about 22 images and short descriptions about what people who were in NYC on 9/11 have kept from that day. From dust on a car to worn shoes and paper lunch bags it was powerful to read out loud to them the attachment people had to these items and why they kept them though they may not look at them every day because it hurts.
My 7th graders had many more questions about 9/11 and that is to be expected, I suppose. They were born into a post-9/11 world. They had heard stories from family and friends, seen some things in the news or on tv. Some of them surprised me at how well-informed they were (mentioning the 1993 World Trade Center incident) while others had heard things like “Wasn’t there a tornado afterward?” What he was referring to and actually asking about (though he didn’t know) was all the dust surrounding blocks and blocks of NYC after the towers fell. We talked about structural building, codes in the city now, why it may have fallen straight down, damage to surrounding buildings and that it wasn’t a tornado but because of the force and speed with which the towers fell, it spread dust and debris over such a large span of the land/area around where the World Trade Center buildings had once been.
It was a good discussion. A good time of questions and answers. Remembering. Honoring. Informing. Reflecting. It made me further resolved to ALWAYS take time on 9/11 to talk about it with students. The generations to come will have no attachment to it and it is significant to many people and to our country. It’s important they realize that this was a real event that affected real people and impacts their lives today. It’s not just images or a video or something that we talk about once a year. It’s real, live history. I think this quote sums that importance up quite nicely and I love that it is in the 9/11 Memorial Museum in honor of those who lost their lives and worked so tirelessly in the minutes, hours, days and months following 9/11.
No day shall erase you from the memory of time. – Virgil
And with that I’ll leave you with this image. It sticks out to me at the moment because I’ve currently got a documentary on the rebuilding of the World Trade Center on in the background. Very interesting hearing the insights and stories of those helping rebuild. Check out the History Channel tonight to see more.