9-11: Terrorism sparks new subject for teachers

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 28, 2011

By Sarah Campbell
When Dawn Lowe started teaching U.S. history 25 years ago, “terrorism” wasn’t part of the terminology used.
That changed the day terrorist attacks occurred on American soil.
“Before, you didn’t talk about terrorism even though there were terrorist activities,” the East Rowan High School teacher said. “The Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor was definitely a terrorist attack, but they didn’t call it that.”
The year following 9/11, a couple of pages were added to the U.S. History textbook. Today, an entire chapter is devoted to terrorism with Sept. 11 receiving a section.
“We even talk about homegrown terrorism like the Oklahoma City bombing,” Lowe said.
And Lowe said terrorism isn’t just a hit-and-run subject, it’s something she weaves throughout the entire semester.
“It’s a current thing that’s ever-changing and ever-present,” she said. “We are an ever-growing history, we grow day by day.”
Although Lowe’s current group of juniors were in the first grade on Sept. 11, 2001, she still encourages them to seek out firsthand accounts of the incidents, whether it’s through videos online or articles in newspapers and magazines.
“Our greatest resources are the eyewitnesses to these events,” she said.
Lowe’s students will read “September 12th … We Knew Everything Would be All Right” during class Monday.
The book, written and illustrated by first grade students, gives a reminder that despite the horrific events of Sept. 11, the world continued the following day.
“It’s simplistic, but it says a multitude,” Lowe said. “It says we knew everything would be OK because we’re Americans and our resolve is strong.”
Teaching tolerance
Civics teacher John McNeil doesn’t necessarily teach about 9/11 in his classes, but the subject still comes up.
“We teach tolerance, what it means to discriminate, what the laws are and why we shouldn’t discriminate,” he said.
McNeil said some of his students at East Rowan come into class with misunderstandings about different religions and cultures.
“I still see a lot of that idea that anybody that is Muslim could be a terrorist,” he said. “I try to get them out of that mindset by using examples and telling them that most Muslims are peaceful people.
“It’s like anything else, we only hear about the bad part of something.”
McNeil said although 9/11 made people more aware of the harm that exists, it also closed them off to different ideas.
“Tolerance in general, I think, is a lesson everybody should go through,” he said. “As a society we get a stereotypical image of what’s out there.”
Kristi Miller said tolerance also plays a vital role in her civics class at West Rowan High.
“All of them seem to be pretty tolerant already,” she said, “I think because they have grown up with it. We have such a diverse population here with many backgrounds.”
But Miller said she still has students who question things about different cultures and religions.
“They still have their own beliefs and they are strong beliefs,” she said.
McNeil and Miller said the legal ramifications also come into play when relating 9/11 to civics classes.
Their classes talk about the Patriot Act and how it affects the U.S. Constitution.
Getting creative
Wendy Fontenot typically finds a way to incorporate 9/11 into her English III classes each year, whether through writing or a reading assignment.
But this year, she asked students to get creative. They could draw, rap, build a structure or do whatever they dreamed up to demonstrate their feelings about 9/11.
“I don’t like a pre-set thing. I like to do something a little bit different,” Fontenot said. “We all have a different story about how we were impacted. I know where I was when it happened and how it felt.”
Fontenot said she tries to relate every lesson to her students by getting them to think beyond the surface.
“I really just want it to touch them in a way,” she said.
She got students thinking about the project by asking them to imagine what it would be a like to be a child of 9/11, to grow up without a parent.
“It’s hard to get them to relate to it on a personal level,” she said. “I really think they need to feel it.”
Miller’s partnered with the art and carpentry departments at West to get students thinking about the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
The art department set up a memory board to display with wooden replicas of the Twin Towers built and painted by carpentry students.
During lunch each day, students can fill out index cards with their memories of that day.
“It’s a good visual representation,” Miller said.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.
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