Michaels: Without remembrance, we will forget

Sept. 11, 2001 is a day we have to make sure we never forget. - Multimedia editor / Drew Peltzman

The 22nd anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, has come and passed. A heartbreaking day that over the years has become a day meant for remembrance. A time to pay tribute to those lost, appreciate those who are still here, take appreciation for all you have, and come together as a nation – the way we did 22 years ago. 

My idea for this article began as a want to discuss how vital it is to remember this day, especially as those of us who are younger than 22 were not alive for this day – meaning that in less than a few years, all students passing through Rowan will have not been alive to experience a pre-Sept 11 world. In the process of working through this idea, everything quickly changed in the direction this article would go. 

Evidently, we are well past the time when students in all grades were born the same year, a few years after, or lived through. For those of us who were a part of that, it was new. Teachers were learning how to teach about it and in what manner. How much detail should they give on what occurred that day? How much should we learn about terrorism in the world? How do you tell children of a cataclysmic event that took so many people away from us and changed life in America forever? 

Many of us have a story, a memory, of that day – whether it is yours or your family’s, you likely have a tale to be told because it is something to remember. We tell those stories to remember them, to keep the memories alive, and to pay tribute to the heroes and devastations of that day. 

I was born three months after the attack occurred. My mother always told me how she was lying in bed, six months pregnant, when my dad called frantically to tell her to turn on the TV. Every year in school, from elementary to high school, I remember taking a moment of silence to pay respect for those lost. I remember sharing stories, talking about lost loved ones, and being shown pictures and videos from that day, in all my entirety of schooling. 

In some way or another, many who read this will likely have a tale similar to tell. Many of us grew up in a world that was learning to live with this and the fact that anyone in the grades below seniors in college graduating in 2024 were not alive to experience the catastrophe broadcast across every newsroom, in a time where social media did not exist, led me to question a very important question. 

How is Sept. 11 being taught in schools now? After 22 years, it can be assumed that it has all been figured out. In an age where news is in the palm of your hands and where tragedy is all around us, happening more often than ever – not to mention less than five years since the world shut down due to a pandemic, a tragedy like 9/11 is not as uncommon to hear of. 

I immediately reached out to a few teachers, some vetted and some new, to find an answer to this question. What I discovered was heartbreaking. 

“It’s first grade so we really don’t talk about it too much. They are too young to discuss everything. We call it Patriot’s Day and discuss more about how people helped each other during a difficult time and how some countries are not as nice as others. Very light,” said Dana Zagame, an elementary teacher at Tinc Road School in Mt. Olive, New Jersey. 

In first grade, we had moments of silence. In first grade, we saw pictures of the towers. We shared stories our parents told us. We watched videos and did small worksheets. In first grade, no one ever dressed in red, white, or blue. No one called it Patriot’s Day. It was not hidden from us, we learned what Sept. 11 was for what it was, a terrorist attack. And the leader, Osama Bin Laden, the man ultimately responsible, was still alive. We knew it in all of its detail.

My next thought was that maybe it’s because first grade is so young and Zagame has been teaching long enough to have a mapped out plan of what to teach. Then, I figured I should reach out to a newer teacher, and see how they are teaching about this. 

Shannon Laykin, who graduated from Rowan in 2023 with an elementary education degree and a psychology minor, shared some insights on how she would be tackling teaching this day as a student teacher in Chesterfield, New Jersey, versus how she had learned of it in school. 

“Growing up we would always have a moment of silence in the morning. We talked more about what happened on 9/11 some classmates would share stories of where they were with their parents/guardians on that day or their parents’ work days. We would also talk about heroes. We would usually read some sort of article related to 9/11. We have also watched different types of videos related to 9/11, such as heroes’ stories and videos of the planes. I remember talking about the memorial when they began building that as well,” Laykin said. 

While her memories were similar to mine, her teaching would be much different. 

“My CT said we can’t go into much detail… Our morning meeting we will talk about what the word hero means to us. We are reading the survivor tree and watching a video called ‘911 Hero performed by Michael Isreal in New York‘ and will have a discussion on the book and video,” said Laykin. 

As strange as it is to hear young students are learning far differently from how we learned 10-plus years ago, it makes sense. Children are young, they do not need to know of such awful moments in time so young. How about middle school? 

Dominique Kenny Brock, a 6th-grade English teacher at Copeland Middle School in Rockaway, New Jersey shared that while she has not taught about Sept. 11 in too much detail over the years, she is making an effort to get the book, “Ground Zero” by Alan Gratz approved for her students to read. 

By the time I was in middle school, the Taliban leader had been executed. We would watch videos of the towers falling and often did not need permission to read certain books. These minor shifts in teaching are not what caught my eye with Brock. Her response to how Sept. 11 was talked about this year was. 

“Feeling generally disappointed with society, specifically the media lately, I purposely listened to the radio on my 20-minute drive to work today, instead of Pandora. I wanted to hear any sort of recognition or remembrance for the day. I switched from station to station and nothing. The morning announcements at school then came and went with nothing. Google did not even put a background to commemorate the day! Sad was an understatement. So, before I introduced my 9/11 lesson to each class I prefaced it by sharing my disappointment. I even sent an angry text to a friend of mine whose father died on 9/11, who then optimistically reassured me that maybe the school was waiting to have a moment of silence at the time the towers had officially fallen. That time came and went with nothing,” said Brock.

While the middle school eventually did a moment of silence towards the end of the day, what many of us know to be a day of remembrance, heroes, love, sadness, and appreciation has turned into a day to wear red, white, and blue. Ultimately sheltering children and hiding pieces of history in fear of “teaching them too young.” Taking away those moments of silence, ignoring or hiding this piece of history in a time where children, teens, and adults are living through major historical moments, is not right. 

Through social media and the development of “cancel culture” sensitivities are heightened and a want to shelter and protect children is inherently apparent. This is not to say that students should hear the grizzly details, but the overall truth needs to be known from an early age. The world is scary. The world has awful events happening every day. Life is not sunny skies and perfect weather all the time. And to not share a monumental historical event with all ages is damaging to the development of society and the impact that history has on people. 

Don’t hide the past. Don’t shelter the truth. No matter what age you are, no matter what you remember. No matter what you don’t want to remember. You have to share your story and their story. Every hero, every death, every family broken, and every helping hand deserves to be remembered. They deserve to be spoken about. This is our history and to those of us who remember, it is our job to assure we hold true to our promise to never forget. And to those of us who weren’t alive to remember, it is our job to get the story so we can never forget. 

Don’t let 9/11, a day to always remember, become just another Patriot’s Day.

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