In the 20 years that have followed the events of Sept. 11, 2001, small memorials are still organized each fall, and the public takes time to share their memories. However, for a younger generation of Americans, there is no memory to recall. Instead, it falls on educators to bring that lesson out of the history books and convey the impact of that morning to students.
Each of the 18 teachers in the history and social science department at Methuen High School will be talking about Sept. 11 this week as the 20th anniversary approaches, said Roger Lenfest, the chairperson of department. As a community, the entire school will also observe a moment of silence on Friday.
Inside the classrooms, teachers rely on various ways to approach the topic, Lenfest said, and each of the teachers has created their own plan for the lesson. Much of the discussion will be driven by what he or she feels the students are ready to process, he added.
Teachers can choose to talk about the events of the day itself or how the events of Sept. 11 changed society as a whole, he continued.
Some teachers will rely on the use of “powerful” first-person sources — newsclips or testimony from survivors or victims’ families, Lenfest said. Hearing the painful words can be emotional, he added, and triggering for students who may have experienced their own loss.
Teachers will take the time to talk to students about the testimony they’ll hear and let the students take a step back if needed.
Faculty find that students typically have some knowledge of Sept. 11, Lenfest said, and often build on that base knowledge to facilitate a discussion, answer questions, and fill in the gaps.
“Students are curious, when they hear bits and pieces, they want to know,” he said. “They are trying to put it together.”
Some teachers have students pursue guided research projects while others share their own personal reflections of the day.
Lenfest recalls how he was teaching that morning when a colleague came in to tell him what had happened. Cell phones weren’t as prevalent then, and it was hard to watch the news during the school day, he said.
“Teachers were trying to keep each other informed and not cause students to panic,” he said.
While some may find it hard to convey the totality of that fateful morning, Lenfest said, only by sharing the experience with new generations can we keep the promise to never forget.
“We study history to understand how we came to be and who we are,” he said. “It was more than just who was president that day. Every individual has a perception of that day. When we can center that, that’s where kids maintain interest.”