30 August 2011

"Remembering" September 11, 2001

"Space may be the final frontier
But it's made in a Hollywood basement"
Red Hot Chili Peppers, Californication

The events of September 11, 2001 happened. They happened in lower Manhattan, they happened in Arlington, Virginia, the happened over Western Pennsylvania, they happened in the air outside of Logan and Newark airports. They happened everywhere that people watched, or heard, or reacted.

But September 11, 2001, like all events, then became history. And history is not what happened. History is what we believe happened. History is what we understand happened. Truly, history is what "we" say happened.

In a blog on The New York Times Learning Network site Monday, Pam Moran and I discussed the essentials of why and how we need to teach about "9/11." We have much to say - we had more before editing for space restrictions - but perhaps the essence is summarized in this paragraph:

"Today’s students will enter a world of adulthood in which information does not come curated by editors in large, downtown buildings. Rather, they are direct information consumers, creators and distributors, interpreting current events and building history."

Forgotten massacre: The British
killed over 11,500 American prisoners
of war during the Revolution
on Prison Ships in Brooklyn's
Wallabout Bay. Do your students
know about that?

What ultimately is vital, is essential, is that we help our students to become much better at being, "consumers, creators and distributors [of history, and] interpreting current events and building history." Because history and its implications are far too important to be left to "Hollywood" or those who control Hollywood, or to politicians with narrow self-serving agendas.

If we allow only those with power interests or financial interests to tell and preserve the stories of the past, the stories of our past will be limited to those which "sell" an agenda.

This might explain why very, very few Americans know about the Philippine-American War, or why, while "Juneteenth" (June 19th, 1865) is celebrated as the end of slavery in the United States, American students don't learn that in December 1865 there were still over 40,000 slaves in Kentucky, and thousands more in  Tennessee, Kansas, New Jersey, Delaware, West Virginia, Maryland, Missouri, Washington, D.C., and Louisiana. Those states, under "Union" control, waited for the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution to take effect before freeing their "African" slaves. It might explain why the Soviet Union, America's great ally of the 1940s, could be nothing but an "evil empire" from 1949 to 1989. Or why Woodrow Wilson was considered a failed President from 1919 to 1935, before he was "resurrected" via the FDR administration's contacts in the publishing and film industry. It might be why Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States is so different from our K-12 American history textbooks, or why many more Japanese planes are shot down in a film like Pearl Harbor than actually were.

Was Woodrow Wilson a progressive hero? Or a racist
meddler who guaranteed a second war in Europe?
The fight over the history of September 11, 2001 began on September 12, 2001, if not before. In New York's Union Square Park, which lay just outside the excluded zone of the city, peace vigils sprung up even as other voices across the nation demanded vengeance. That fight continued through the decisions to fight wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (with massive protests in New York City against the Iraq invasion) and continue today in debates about the presence of an Islamic Cultural Center near the World Trade Center.

In each case, people on both sides of an issue create, adapt, and deliver their own histories of that bright late summer morning. And in each case, those histories suggest paths into the future which very well might impact our students' lives.

So, our suggestion is to use this event, and the history constructed within the lifetime of our students, as a way to begin investigating how history is created, and why history is created.

One history of "9/11"... but not everyone's
Over the rest of the week lesson ideas will appear both at The Times Learning Network and here. The Times site, as always, is open to conversation, as is Edutopia. Please join in, and help make this "9/11" anniversary an important beginning to get students thinking deeply and critically about history.

"I am a student, and to be honest I really thought history was boring because all of the dates you had to remember for tests. But now by reading this learning network article I started to think about how you really need to deeply understand the history of something. And by understanding it you will realize that it is essential to human life.

"I think 9/11 should be taught in schools across the world, and we shouldn’t neglect it, we should understand and remember the event."   — Rachel commenting in The New York Times.

- Ira Socol

fascinating view of the construction of "9/11" history by Frank Rich in New York Magazine.

1 comment:

Ajlounyinjurylaw said...

I agree, it's an important subject and a current event (10 years is a short time ago). It should be taught and never forgotten.