DFW schools teach lessons on 9-11 to kids too young to remember
Ten years after the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, North Texas teachers are gathering high school students to discuss the tragedy, dispatching middle schoolers to interview their parents, and prompting fifth-graders to write thank-you letters to first responders.
Teachers are also doing a lot of listening and explaining to a generation too young to remember when the twin towers fell.
Beyond New York and New Jersey, Texas is one of only a few states to include the study of 9-11 and its related events in the required curriculum. Texas mandates that students learn about the day when more than 3,000 people died in New York City, Virginia and Pennsylvania in the largest act of terrorism on American soil.
Pat Hardy, one of the 15 elected members of the State Board of Education, said the panel's inclusion of specific references to 9-11 was anticlimactic when it adopted new standards in May 2010.
"It wasn't controversial because it was a part of history," she said. "If you think about it, history is often not taught until quite a few years after the event. But you couldn't possibly teach your high school U.S. history classes without teaching about 9-11 and the war on terror."
Texas standards call for fifth-grade social studies to include some aspects of 9-11 beginning this school year. Eighth-graders and high-school students also are revisiting the subject, but in more depth.
How students learn about the sensitive subject is usually left up to individual teachers' discretion, letting them decide what their students need to learn about 9-11.
Chad Hannon, a history teacher at Grapevine Middle School, has discovered that many of his students have only a visual record of that fateful day. That is what they remember, not the details. His eighth-graders have been interviewing adults about 9-11 and their reactions.
"They have no idea what was going through people's heads," said Hannon, who was in college when the attacks happened. "The main thing they've realized is how confusing it all was.
"I wanted them to get the idea that history is remembered in memory, not just as an event in film and textbooks."
At Chisholm Middle School in the Northwest district, choir teacher Stephanie Thurston has used the arts to teach pre-teens about the meaning of 9-11, but she often finds herself filling in the facts for her curious students.
"Some children remembered their mothers watching TV and crying," Thurston said. "Some thought it was a bomb. Some of them knew about this guy bin Laden that was killed in May, but they didn't know how it was connected."
Cari Smith, a fifth-grade teacher at Timberline Elementary School in Grapevine, also answers a lot of questions.
"Some children come to you who have a million questions, rumors and misconceptions about it," Smith said. "Others haven't heard a lot about it in their household, and some students' families weren't in this country at the time and don't know much about it."
Many school districts and curriculum chiefs have been busy compiling extra resources for teachers, including age-appropriate websites, computer programs and materials from the National Archives and the Library of Congress.
"It's our history, and we need to educate our students about it the same way we talk about the Civil War, World War I and World War II," said Angela Whitaker, Fort Worth's social studies director.
At Larson Elementary School in the Arlington district, counselor Debbie Thibodeaux provided teachers with several lesson plans for today that stress everyday citizenship.
Kindergartners will learn about the meaning of the pledge to the flag, and sixth-graders will relate the events of 9-11 to the Constitution.
Curriculum extras are nice, but many teachers strongly believe their own experiences are valuable teaching tools.
"They see my emotion about it," Smith said. "I do share with them the fact that I remember the events of the day down to what I was wearing. I think that helps them gain a sense of importance about it."
Staff writers Jessamy Brown, Eva-Marie Ayala and Martha Deller contributed to this report.
Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657