Today is the 14th anniversary of 9-11. No mention of the anniversary was made on the front page of today’s New York Times. The one article I noticed was about e-mails from a variety of people sent on 9-11. In contrast, Facebook was loaded with photographs and “We shall never forget” sentiments. As a retired teacher, I wonder what lessons were taught in schools today. In past years as Librarian at Holy Ghost Prep, I set up a display of books, posters and photographs. Throughout the day I showed video on the big screen in the library. I enjoyed watching small groups of students, silently usually, gathered around the screen. Throughout the day, week actually, some would look at books, a few sat for a period. In my United States History classes, we would discuss what students remembered, or knew about 9-11. We might talk about why it happened, how could we prevent it happening in the future.
In my college, teaching social studies class, I used the opportunity to explore how teachers must make decisions about what to teach. How those decisions often involve personal, school or community values. In the first anniversary years there were schools that had a policy not to mention or teach about 9-11. As strange as that seems, I had students at Holy Family University that told me that was district policy. I would break students into small groups and give them a list of possible topics for a 9-11 lesson. “We can’t teach everything, you need to make a choice.”
- Don’t teach anything
- Teach the facts — who, what, when, where, why, how
- Teach obout first responders — hero stories
- Teach about terrorism
- Look and video and photographs and discuss
- Solicit student memories
- Discuss stereotyping and the Islamic, Arab community
- Another idea
Obviously the discussion and student choices changed as the years passed. But it was always interesting to see their choices and of course their rationale, “why did the group chose no 3 or no 7? Sometimes I gave them an article to read about teachers and teaching 9-11.
This past Spring, Diane and I spent several days in New York City with John and Barbara Paglione. High on our list was the newly opened 9-11 Memorial at ground zero. We spent a significant time outside, meditating at the fountain waterfalls that mark the building footprint; the memorial trees. It is always fascinating to people watch. Then we entered the museum. It takes several hours to slowly walk through the displays — artifacts, video, photographs, audio. A burnt fire truck, the last beam removed from the site, signed by responders, towers in front of a original iron river wall. It was impossible not to be emotional.
Our next stop was Saint Paul’s Chapel in the shadow of the Twin Towers. For 70 years a sycamore tree grew in the courtyard. The tree, broken during the 9-11 blast shielded the chapel and became a powerful symbol of of the courage and sacrifice after 9-11. We went to Saint Paul’s to see the Steve Tobin bronze sculpture, “Trinity Root.” We first discovered Tobin at an exhibit at the Mitchener Art Museum in Doylestown and read about his Roots theme. Tobin got permission to use the Trinity root and stump to cast a sculpture which was installed in front of St. Paul’s in 2005. After the Trinity Root, Tobin changed what he creates to “Steel Roots” — babstract steel cylinders rather that realistic looking roots. For me, maybe because of the artist, Bucks County connection, single powerful image; Trinity root became a powerful rememberance of 9-11. Unfortunately, amazingly, as of August 2015, the current rector of Saint Paul’s doesn’t like the sculpture and wants it removed.
If I was teaching a lesson on 9-11 today, I would share with students my memories of sitting at my library computer when a CNN news alert announced that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. How in the next few hours, I (and everyone else at HGP) tried to turn to updates. And then the tragic reality sunk in. I’d share how with them how I watched and re watched video, looked at photographs, and listened to interviews.
But today, I would want them to focus on one simple symbol. For me it is the Trinity Root sculpture. Maybe for them it would be the iconic 9-11 Iwo Jima photograph of firefighters, or pictures of a memorial, in NYC or the Garden of Reflection in Lower Makefield Township. The image, the symbol, should help us to remember and reflect. I hope the rector of Saint Paul’s doesn’t remove the Trinity Root. It’s my rememberance.