Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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Contextualizing 9/11 important for students

Anyone who has witnessed the erosion of American civil liberties in the 10 years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 has probably come across a written reference to George Orwell’s 1984. Our country’s stricter security policies and more expansive surveillance programs prompted analytical comparisons to 1984’s seemingly omniscient Big Brother, dangerous censorship of public opinion and forfeited privacy.

Now as we begin to impart the history and morality of 9/11 to younger generations, we must bear in mind Orwell’s warning about the dangers of historical revisionism: “He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future.”

In fact, for many current high school students, 9/11 is more of a historical event, presenting teachers with the daunting task of teaching about the worst terrorist attack on American soil in a way that is meaningful, accurate and respectful.

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To make matters more difficult, a new study by professors from the University of Wisconsin and the College of William and Mary concluded that even a decade after the attacks, there’s no consensus on how to devise, or teach, a 9/11 curriculum.

According to the study, Wisconsin provided its teachers with almost no guidance on how to teach the events. The study’s authors candidly discussed the benefits of this approach, noting that it allows teachers to have more flexibility and control in determining how to present course material.

Teachers must endeavor to present 9/11 to their students in a manner that is informative and clarifying. This might mean abandoning textbooks, which, as a consequence of limited space and carefully curated content, may only offer trite details about the actual attack or meaningless platitudes about the day’s larger consequences.

Perhaps the best resource teachers can draw on is their own personal experience. As anyone with grandparents can attest, talking to people who directly experienced an event can yield greater insight than reading about it in a book.

9/11 anecdotes can only go so far in offering a comprehensive explanation of why terrorists successfully targeted the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Obviously the wealth of archival footage and relevant documents provides a vast resource pool to draw from, but it is the subjective selection of this information that raises concerns about historical revisionism.

Students must be given evidence to contextualize Al Qaeda’s senseless, horrific attack on our country. This is not to say that teachers must rehash the political views that dictated the decisions made by terrorists, but if we are to properly trace the roots of their absolutely unjustifiable hatred, then we must touch on controversial issues like the United States’ support of Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the longstanding occupation of Middle Eastern countries by U.S. troops.

Providing students with the tools to derive intent and causation from historical context improves their ability to perceive history as more than just dates, timelines and names – even if doing so requires touching on controversial topics. To say that there are only two sides to the 9/11 story equally undermines students’ potential to become critical thinkers capable of considering the multiple players and interests involved in any major global event.

For many people, 9/11 may have been and may always be a preposterously deadly instance of us vs. them – a case study of freedom-hating terrorists waging war against a fledgling western empire. But this narrative is shortsighted and neglects that day’s more abstract casualties: the loss of dignity for many Arab-Americans, the overwhelming paranoia of Americans and the two wars fought, needlessly, in two foreign countries.

Eric Carlson ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in political science and journalism.

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