“That September Day” is a day that is etched in the minds of most Americans. Formally marked on our calendars as Patriot Day; it is a Day of Service and Remembrance. In the minds of many though, just saying “September 11th” or “9/11” is enough. We know exactly what it means. It represents a time when we, as Americans, felt vulnerable. How could something like this happen in OUR country? How safe are we? Can it happen again?
Now, explain that feeling to a 10 year old. Every year it gets more difficult, even though it is so fresh in the minds of my colleagues and I. The things to remember is that my current students were born after 2001. So, how can we possibly share our memories in a way that they will understand, or even care? I parallel the disconnect to when my parents’ generation talks about President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Because I wasn’t born yet, I won’t ever fully comprehend the magnitude of that day. So, I rely on videos and photos to express the emotion of the tragedies.
In my classroom, Patriot Day promotes discussion and analysis. First, my students need to interview at least one adult about 9/11. This is done before the actual day. I like to do this, so that a student’s first discussion happens at home. This also provides a personal connection. The rest of the assignment is to identify things like: What is the purpose of Patriot Day? What was the impact that 9/11 had on our country? What changes have been made? In regards to service, I ask my students to think about what they would do now (at their age) to help in the case of a national emergency. Lastly, they have to provide some facts about what actually happened on September 11th. Sometimes I ask them to identify ethical issues too. It is always interesting to see the finished assignment.
It was the comment of one student, however, that prompted me to write about this subject. After our school’s annual flag ceremony on Friday, complete with color guard, patriotic songs and poems, we returned to class and discussed September 11th. My students heard 9/11 memories from both, my colleague and I, and then my students shared with each other what they found out in their earlier interview. Next, I played the song Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning by Alan Jackson. Actually, I played the video, but only had them listen to it. In order to really listen to the lyrics, I gave them the option of putting their head down and/or closing their eyes; which most of them did. I highly recommend that you do the same when you listen, or mute all other noises, when you listen for the first time also.
Afterwards, I asked them to share their thoughts with each other and then as a whole class. One student said, “Before hearing this, I only knew the facts [of 9/11], but now I understand the feeling. I have a better understanding of what people felt.” Yes, he got it!
Facts are concrete, but feelings spark a flame deep within. A flame for more knowledge. A flame for a better understanding. A flame for meaningful answers. A flame for tolerance and respect of all people. A flame for Never Again. A flame for American pride.