Thursday, September 11, 2014

September Whath?

Thirteen years ago a horrible tragedy occurred and every year at this time, those of us who care to take a moment to remember, do so. In many of the years since, the schools in which I have worked have, institutionally, set time aside to discuss the events of that day. This year, my school did not set time aside and I was asked how I felt about this. I responded that I understood the decision. The students did not like my answer. But I think that the question needs to be addressed.

What is the value of discussing the events of 9/11 in a high school? The seniors were 4 years old at the time of the attack. To them, this is a topic from history. Do they get something more than someone would when talking about Pearl Harbor because they, at least, were alive in 2001 (when I mentioned Pearl in class, a student, a 12th grader, actually said "What's Pearl Harbor?" I don't raise this to mock anyone, simply to say that some events, no matter how cataclysmic, eventually become facts, names and dates, not shared experiences) ? Is there something about being in relative proximity which makes it more reasonable for students in NY and NJ to review the events of the day moreso than someone in Texas?

Stuff has happened in this country. lots of it. Much of it really bad. The Twin Towers were bombed years before 9/11. Two space shuttles exploded. The federal building in Oklahoma City was bombed as was a marathon. The White House was burned down. Innumerable school shootings have taken scores of young lives. Presidents were assassinated, wars were fought. But we don't take time out of the school day to commemorate most of these events. Should we? When does something become a relic or a vestige of a past we no longer culturally share? Is it about the number of deaths? Is it about the symbolism of the event or the choice of villain? As for me? I'm an old man. I remember 9/11 like it was yesterday. Sights, sounds, feelings. It is all recent to me, part of what has shaped me. But to a teenager who was barely on the cusp of memory? Is there really any point beyond teaching America's past in 2001 in the same way that one might take time to commemorate the Boston Massacre?

But on the other hand, don't we believe in some form of "Never forget"? Don't we think that certain events need to stay fresh because the lessons are too important to be allowed to grow stale? Aren't we still in a political era over which 9/11's shadow is still cast, fighting the same war (itself a subject of argument)? Shouldn't students see what established the context which demands that we police the world in a particular way? Isn't 9/11 just too central to today's culture to be shunted aside or turned into a chapter in a text book? Isn't there some point to holding on to the pain and ensuring that a new generation feels the pain as acutely as we who lived through the event? Isn't it just too soon to turn this into trivia or the distant recollections of the senior set? And if so, when will it become acceptable to file this away?

Honestly, I don't know. I invite comment and we have 364 days to make a decision for next year.

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