How do we teach memories?

After reading David Wallace’s essay “The View from Mrs. Thompson’s House”, I got to think about what I remember from September 11th, 2001 and the days following. I was surprised that I do not remember very much. I remember the school day stopping suddenly, and teachers looking scared. I remember being picked up from school and my Mom explaining what happened. The last thing I remember of that day was sitting in front of the television watching the Twin Towers fall repeatedly and getting sort of tired of the image, as there seemed to be no channel that did not display the footage.

The days following, I remember flags going up everywhere. The Wilmington News Journal had a special addition of their daily paper that included a paper American flag which we displayed on our living room window facing the street. This was the first time we displayed a flag in our home, and I do not believe we have displayed one since.

Since 9/11 I have learned more about the politics behind the terrible tragedy, but it is the vague memory of that day that allowed me to feel connected to the event and therefore more easily learn about it. Ten years have passed. We now have entire high schools filled with children who very well possibly have narrower memories than I do. How does one go about assuring that those children fully understand what happened that day? And what about the pre-teens that have no memories of that day? It is important that these children learn the historical facts of 9/11. More, and more textbooks and learning sites such as PBS are incorporating 9/11 into their curriculum. Children’s television programs are aiming at providing age-appropriate description of the events of 9/11.

But how will these children feel connected to the events, when they were not present or aware for them? I feel that large-scale terrorists events such as 9/11 should be taught just as the holocaust of World War II is taught and remembered. World War II brings a lot of emotion to me because I feel connected to it. No, I was not there when it happened, nor was anyone in my family a victim of the holocaust. My K-8 school did a very good job at exposing us to the holocaust that I am haunted by it, yet confident in knowing why and how it came to be.

My school first taught the holocaust in a traditional historical context. As we got older though, we were exposed to evidence of the holocaust that ground in images and thoughts into our brains. We watched videos, saw pictures, and went to see three survivors of the holocaust speak at a Jewish Community Center. Although I was not there during the events of the war, I will forever feel compassion and responsibility as a human, for the deaths of every person killed in a concentration camp.

If we begin to teach, but not over-teach, the events of September 11th, through age-appropriate concrete evidence of the tragedy, we will successfully give students the knowledge they need to feel connected, compassionate, and informed, so that in the future, when they are adults, they will remember the day just as we do.

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