September 11: Teaching Tragedy

Updated September 2, 2019

As the eighteenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks nears, the Smithsonian continues to offer its September 11: Bewaring Witness to History. Along with blog posts, the site also links to the extensive resources of the three memorial websites. Though some of the links from its 2011 collections no longer work, others link to a digital archive of on-site photographs and objects from the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Also for teachers, Pam Moran makes the argument for including 9/11 in students’ study of history in a NYT Learning Network post from 2011. Last year, at the 10th anniversary, the Learning Network also posted teachers’ 9/11 lesson ideas and projects.

Scholastic also offers its 9/11 resources assembled last year. A set of FAQs is available for younger students. “I Was 11 on 9/11” describes sixth-grader Emily Sussell‘s escape from a school four blocks from the Twin Towers and the days that followed. The article is detailed enough to provide a timeline of events. Writing for older middle grades children, a Scholastic editor remembers the morning of 9/11 when her brother died in one of the Twin Towers and the impact of the almost 3000 deaths on families and friends. Elsewhere on the site, Scholastic provides an October, 2011 article on the war in Afghanistan, including the death of Osama bin Laden. A December, 2011 article, in noting the end of the war in Iraq, gives a quick review of the US fighting in that country.

If you decide to use video and audio of the attacks, the History Channel provides timelines and  interactive maps with linked video clips. The recently updated site also contains resources on the rebirth of the World Trade Center.

The anti-Muslim/anti-foreigner hate crimes that erupted immediately following 9/11 continued. in 2011 a Joplin, Missouri mosque was burned and a  Murfreesboro, Tennessee Islamic center opened after months of vandalism, arson, and court challenges. In the same month a gunman killed six members of the Sikh community in Oak Creek, Wisconsin as they worshiped. This op-ed article in the Atlanta Black Star expresses concern about the lack of “national outrage.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project provides lessons to help students recognize stereotyping. “Debunking Muslim Myths” uses graphs to show Muslims’ place in American society. “Because I Had a Turban” goes inside schools to report students’ experiences of discrimination. The lesson offers suggestions for building tolerance in the classroom. You will also find links to other Teaching Tolerance lessons on the sensitivity and legal issues around discussing religion in the classroom. “Bringing 9/11 in the Classroom—Useful Lessons,” from 2011, links to several with most resources still available.

Students can see how writers respond to loss in “The Names,” a poem by former poet laureate Billy Collins, read at PBS News Hour September 11, 2011. The video features photographs of people killed on 9/11.

In a Book Whisperer post on books to build community in the classroom, Donalyn Miller recommends 14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy.  The book recounts how Maasai villagers in Kenya responded to the 9/11 attacks by giving 14 cows, their most prized possessions, to America.


Photos: From the Smithsonian, SEPTEMBER 11 BEARING WITNESS TO HISTORY: WTC stairway by John Labriola, an eyewitness going to work, Shanksville by Tim Shaffer of Reuters, Pentagon by firefighter Jon Culberson

Susan Curtis

Susan Curtis is co-editor of In a long career, she has taught middle grades students, worked in human services, edited a variety of publications and wrangled the reference desk in libraries.

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