The oldest high school students in the country today were not alive when the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, sent shockwaves across the United States. Even the average senior in college was only one or two years old when the attacks took place.

How are the events of Sept. 11 being taught about in today’s schools when children — and some teachers — weren’t old enough or even alive to witness one of America’s most horrific events?

How is 9/11 being taught?

Emily Murray is a fifth grade teacher in Idaho, gearing up to teach her students about how the world changed in September 2001. Murray, however, doesn’t remember the attacks, given she was only two years old at the time.

She states that she thinks it’s important for her students to learn about 9/11, but she says, “These kids are so far removed from that time, I teach kids who were born 10 years after it happened. I don’t plan on teaching it more than any other historical event because that’s all it is to them.”

Teaching about the attacks isn’t in her curriculum this year, but she still plans to show her students a kid-friendly video, explaining how that day changed the country forever.

“9/11 always felt like such a heavy day,” said Kate Anthony, who was born in 2004 and graduated from high school this year. She recalled watching documentaries about it in elementary and middle school. However, she said that 9/11 was rarely talked about during high school.

Another high school student states that they’re still learning about it in her school.

“When we learned about it last year, my teacher showed us a video with actual footage from people there. I’m gonna be honest, that was the first time that I had seen actual pictures and videos of when it happened and it was shocking,” said Jerzy Matthews, a senior in high school who was born in 2004.

How some Utahns are coping 20 years after the terrorist attacks on New York, Washington, D.C.
Growing up in a post-9/11 world

Opportunities in education

However, some students think there are opportunities for growth and change in the way children are taught about 9/11. Karen Garcia, who was born in 2000, thinks that today’s youth may have been desensitized to the events.

“Every year we were shown some video of 9/11 and what happened the day of. I feel like it really desensitized youth post-9/11 because every year they saw the same footage, just different angles,” Garcia said.

Vexxa Garcia, born in 2001, shared something of the same sentiment, stating that some of Gen Z doesn’t take 9/11 as seriously as previous generations. Some young Americans may even come up with conspiracies that have been fed by word-of-mouth and the internet.

“We didn’t experience (9/11) firsthand, so we don’t fully understand how terrifying it was and we didn’t experience the changes that might have happened,” they said. “I feel like over time, more conspiracies about 9/11 have come out over the internet and it kind of took the seriousness away. The internet is lawless.”

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Following 9/11, attitudes toward Muslim Americans changed. Anti-Muslim sentiment increased, along with hate crimes and widespread fear within Muslim communities. Anthony said she hopes teachers will be more direct about who did, and who didn’t, participate in the Sept. 11 attacks.

“I think that when (9/11) is taught in school, it needs to be heavily clarified that this was just a group of people, not a whole religion or race,” she said.

How to teach about 9/11

Sept. 11, 2001, was undoubtedly a frightening time for all Americans. It can be difficult to bring up such a traumatic moment in time, and difficult to teach it to young minds who don’t have any recollection of the events.

The 9/11 Memorial & Museum, the National Education Association and The New York Times offer resources for teachers who are preparing to teach their students about Sept. 11.

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