my generation's day of infamy

This day is significant and yet losing its significance just because that is what the passage of time does to history. I wonder if this is how many people have felt over time about the bombing of Pearl Harbor?

When I was still in the classroom I always had a writing prompt for my students on September 11th. When I first started teaching it went something like, "Write down everything you remember about September 11th, or the days following." Very quickly though I had to change that prompt to something more generic, "Write down everything you've learned about September 11th", because my students were no longer old enough to remember anything first hand.

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My last year of teaching the students walked in and grabbed their writer's notebooks and saw the prompt. They were always asked to write for 8-10 minutes, but many struggled to come up with enough to put on paper for this prompt. A few remembered their kindergarten teacher crying, but that was it.

And so, this was one of those times, test scores be damned, that I set aside the lesson plan and we just sat and talked and learned.

I was amazed by some of their questions:
"Wasn't there a plane that they thought was headed for the White House?"
Some other kid piped up and answered,
"Yes, but some guys took it back over from the terrorists and they landed it. No one died on that plane, right?"

The more they talked the more I was baffled. Some didn't know the Pentagon was also attacked that day. These kids that have lived in the shadows of a war on terrorism, who can come up with the name of Osama Bin Laden as easily as Abraham Lincoln, didn't fully understand the depravity and hatred that attacked our nation in 2001; didn't fully understand a day that would shape their histories and their futures forever.

So we kept dialoging. We kept asking each other questions.

 I was merely a sophomore in 2001, taking a quiz in Biology, when we caught wind of something strange and flipped on the news in time to see the second tower being hit. Even at age 15, almost 16, I remember knowing that the stunned silence of the news anchors was something I never wanted to hear again in my lifetime. I remember them finally getting their bearings and stammering, "…This seems to be on purpose." I was merely a sophomore, and yet for my students on this day, at this moment, I held answers that no one had ever told them.

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I went to historychannel.com and pulled up some of the videos they had posted from first hand accounts. My students had seen a few specials on TV here and there, or pictures on the internet, but these videos, with their raw footage and no soundtracks to mask the chaos, were the first glimpses many of them saw of what we all watched unfold in horror that day.

I didn't scrap the lesson plan for the day just to scare them or shock them, but because they wanted to know, they were thirsty for the knowledge of this piece of their history. I was an English teacher, but on that day I remembered what one of my great college professors always told me: You teach STUDENTS first. You teach ENGLISH second. 

Yes, I may have more of an appreciation for history than the average person, but I would encourage you [teacher or not] today, and any day, to realize when these moments to really learn are present, and don't let your fear of "not being an expert" stop you. You remember pieces of history no one else does. Pass on your knowledge…the next generation is hungry for it.

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Mandi Wolfswinkel said...

I love this.

momiss said...

Very glad to see this. It's so very true!