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Classroom Lesson Plans: Teaching About 9-11

Dr. Craig was formerly the director of the National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History. He now teaches at the University of Prince Edward Island.

Editor: In addition to the sites listed below, teachers may want to consult http://911digitalarchive.org/stories/, which is sponsored by the Center for History & New Media at George Mason University and the American Social History Project/Center for Media & Learning at CUNY. This site features a large digital archive of individuals' stories about 9-11. Updated September 2011.

HNN Reading List: Click here for a list of books that help put what happened on 9-11 in perspective.

The anniversary of September 11 appears to have set off a mini culture war. On one side is a major teacher's union, several educational organizations, and some colleges and universities. On the other side are a number of think tanks (largely with a conservative bent) that consider some recently produced lesson plans too focused on teaching tolerance, are unwilling to cast judgment or assign blame, and, perhaps are even "unpatriotic." (see http://www.nytimes.com/2002/08/31/education/31TEAC.html).

The National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union, for example, has come under so much fire that a suggested lesson plan on tolerance was removed from its "Remember September 11" website (<http://www.nea.org>). Most recently, the Thomas Fordham Foundation, a D.C.-based research group with a conservative bent, released its report "September 11: What Our Children Need to Know" (http://www.edexcellence.net/Sept11/September11.html) assessing the situation. The report claims to be an alternative to "the nonsense [that] is circulating in the education world" and instead presents "an objective rendering from the perspective of first-rate thinkers, scholars, analysts and educators who share our discomfort with what is fast becoming the conventional wisdom in education-land." The report states that the job of schools is "to teach the common culture, the history of democracy and the centrality of freedom and its defense against aggressors."

This last week, Dickinson College's Clarke Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Contemporary Issues became the latest institution to mark the first anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon by providing school teachers and college professors with yet another a web site designed to explore ways to incorporate discussion of the events into their instruction. Dickinson's Teaching 9-11 website (http://www.teaching9-11.org) compiles resources for teachers of kindergarteners through college students.

The site provides links to syllabi and lesson plans that teachers can adapt that range from grade-school resources designed by PBS and The New York Times to descriptions of college courses, such as Middlebury College's freshman seminar "September 11: Causes and Consequences." The site also includes a list of websites that students can use to pursue issues such as Islamic culture, homeland security, cyberterrorism, and post-traumatic stress. According to college officials, one of the website's strengths is its "comprehensiveness" and "balance and objectivity."

Similarly, Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies has also posted free curriculum resources on its web site (http://www.choices.edu/iraq/) that focuses on the important debate that has begun in this country and abroad about United States policy toward Iraq and its leader Saddam Hussein. To help teachers to engage their students in consideration of this important issue, the site considers policy options, suggests background resources, and provides a lesson plan. For additional information, contact: Choices for the 21st Century Education Program, Brown University, Box 1948, Providence, RI 02912. Telephone: (401) 863-3155.