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Teaching 9/11: How local teachers approach topic

September 12, 2011

As teachers across the country prepare lessons about 9/11, many grapple with how to approach it and what to teach to students.
“For the most part, teachers are on their own when it comes to teaching about 9/11,” said Karen Quatman, who teaches seventh-grade language arts at Wapakoneta Middle School. “My students will learn about 9/11 mostly through secondhand stories. To them, 9/11 is history. I want my students to search out these stories and pass them on to the next generation. After all, history comes from the people that we read about. I want them to learn that it is important to remember.”
Quatman said during the past 10 years, she has added and subtracted things from her lesson plans, but the story pretty much stays the same — the unimaginable loss and courage of that day and how our nation mourned.
“My students were only two or three years old at the time, so I ask them to interview an adult, to find out where they were, how they heard, and what were the moments that they still hold on to today,” Quatman said. “I told my students how we watched the event unfold on television that morning, and one of my students walked over to the classroom window and cried.
“Over the years, I have kept an eye out for age-appropriate materials, keeping in mind the potentially traumatic accounts referring to violence, terrorism and the tragedy of the day,” she said.
This year in class, Quatman’s students will be reading the play, “102 Minutes,” told from a firefighter’s point of view, as well as current newspaper articles discussing lingering health issues of those at ground zero.
She said her class has found learning about how privately owned dogs were mobilized for search teams very interesting and they will conclude discussions by reading excerpts of letters written home by servicemen and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Quatman also reads her students a short story by Joan Baur called, “Children of War,” which begins:
We are left with images that we will never forget.
They’ve been branded on our minds. They are a part of us now.
Part of our past. Part of our future.
We tell ourselves we should be over it by now.
But we’re not over it.
Not yet.
Maybe not ever.
She also teaches her students about International Peace Day — Sept. 21.
Wapakoneta Elementary School fourth-grade social studies teacher Connie Ferenbaugh said with so many content standards to be taught at the elementary level, 9/11 lessons come in the form of some of those standards, specifically the study of a timeline of the attacks, as students learn about what happened when and how the event evolved.
“This year is the first class I’ve had that the majority were not born when it happened,” Ferenbaugh said. “Last year, they were at least alive.
“I’m wondering how that will change how students react,” she said. “Honestly, I don’t think it will change much.”
With replays of the attacks still shown, Ferenbaugh said many of her students feel they have seen what transpired that day even if they didn’t see it live while it was happening.
However, she has noticed that as the years have passed her students don’t present the same feelings of hatred as they did in the first years after the attacks.
“I’m not even sure if they realized we were attacked,” Ferenbaugh said of some of the students. “They don’t get sad at all. Some get mad but it used to be more emotional than it is now. It’s almost like we’ve all become sort of blasé about it.”
Ferenbaugh said that’s part of the importance behind teaching students about 9/11.
“It’s one of those milestones in life,” Ferenbaugh said. “We can all remember where we were that day. We need to help kids remember so they don’t forget.
“When you don’t remember the past, you make the same mistakes over and over again,” she said.
As part of lesson plans, Ferenbaugh has her classes make paper memory quilts, but encourages them to focus on the positive, the patriotism that came from that day, rather than the death and destruction.
“We are required by law to address it and teach it,” Ferenbaugh said.
Required to teach 9/11 lessons to students on Monday, Ferenbaugh began her lessons Friday to get them finished.
Denny Cosart, who teaches United States history (1945 to the present), which all sophomores are required to take and pass in order to graduate from Wapakoneta High School, addresses 9/11 in his contemporary history classes as it is written into textbooks.
“9/11/01 is studied as an important part of our curriculum at Wapakoneta High School,” Cosart said. “References are constantly made to the war on terrorism as I study United States history with my 10th-graders.”
Cosart said as they study time periods such as the Cold War, he tries to get students to understand the paranoia and even hysteria created because of the fear of the “spread of communism” that many Americans felt after World War II.
“I describe a similar feeling most Americans, including myself, felt after the terrorist attacks on 9/11,” Cosart said. “We were afraid because we did not know what would happen next. Our country reacted accordingly because of this fear.”
Cosart talks to his students about legislation — the Patriot Act — passed to help better protect the United States and how individuals and groups were targeted in society through guilt by association.
“Another important similarity is how both these historical events helped to unite our people, and eventually make us a stronger nation,” Cosart said.
“As we look back at the Cold War time period, we notice today communism is no longer a threat to the United States,” he said. “Let’s hope our children’s children can say the same thing about terrorism when they sit in their history classrooms 50 years from now.”

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