This year’s 9th graders have no experience with the events of September 11, 2001.

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There are a lot of good lesson plans on the Internet to teach about 9/11.

But if you’re still only getting as far as the Vietnam War like our high school history teachers did in 2001, find ways to work in these historic and current events with your other units. Full disclosure: We had fantastic teachers! They just ran out of time or got more focused on AP tests. And they didn’t have fanschool.org/geopolitics.

Here are a few ways you might do this:

Start With It

On the first day of U.S. History classes the past few years, I had this primary source playing when students walked into the room:

Recently, an interesting trend started happening — they didn’t watch it reverently like they did in years past — It was like they saw terrorism and violence like this as a normal, everyday part of being a global citizen in the 21st Century.

That unfortunate reality often led to a good question though:

“Why are we watching this?!”

As students get curious and ask “Why?” remember that this is the first step to learning from history!

We then discussed questions (and broader course understandings) like:

What do you know about 9/11?
(if this seems normal, that’s a historic consequence of a recent event)
Why is the woman who filmed this asking questions like “Are we OK?” (empathy is an important historical thinking skill)
How can you possibly understand something like this?
(primary sources are essential when studying history and we’re going to look at, watch, read, and listen to as many of them as possible)

The compilation above is another fascinating look into the news cycle that day. Don’t forget: Social media as we know it now didn’t exist then. Wikipedia had just launched a few months earlier in May of 2001. Google wouldn’t begin Gmail until 2004. And Facebook or Twitter wasn’t available to high schoolers until 2005–2006.

Use It as a Motivator

Show this short documentary in class when you all need a little reminder about resilience and everyday bravery (or the largest sea evacuation in human history).

Keep it in your back pocket — it’s narrated by Tom Hanks, for goodness sake!

If it doesn’t still move you the fifth consecutive time you see it in class that day, you might at least realize you’re a heartless robot and you should be teaching a Statistics course.

Analyze it through the Lens of Sports

Ask Questions to Help Students Find Relevancy

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Go here for more!
  • Why does the Middle East experience such huge changes after World War I and then during the recent Arab Spring?
  • Why did the Soviet Union invade Afghanistan in 1979 and withdraw in 1989?
  • Why doesn’t George H.W. Bush remove Saddam Hussein from power during the First Gulf War?
  • Why does it matter that Osama bin Laden grew up in Saudi Arabia?
  • Why does Al Qaeda exist and what does it have to do with ISIS?
  • Why do Sunni and Shiite Muslims not get along all the time?

To get a few answers to the above questions in a weekend, see:
www.mprnews.org/story/2011/03/16/midday2
www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/bushswar
www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/obamaswar
www.cfr.org/israel/crisis-guide-israeli-palestinian-conflict

Or have your students research them with you!

9/11 is so much more complex than “Never Forget”. Challenge students to see and analyze the complexities and get curious about finding answers.

Because before we can remember it, we need to learn from it:

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