September 11: Teaching Tragedy

Updated August 2021

As the twentieth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks nears, you can visit Olivia B. Waxman’s 2019 TIME article, 9/11 Is History Now. Here’s How American Kids Are Learning About It in Class. As Waxman points out, students in schools now see 9/11 as history while it is still alive in the memory of teachers, whether they were adults or students in 2001. This article reports on a study of state standards and also on how coverage in text books has lessened over the years and how use of online and nonprofits’ resources has increased. The article touches on use of 9/11 images and video in the classroom.

The 9/11 Memorial and Museum is offering a free September 10 and 11, 2021 webinar with viewing guides and followup for students in grades 3 through 12. The organization also provides modules in its 9/11 Primer and  Talking to Children about Terrorism. Teachers and librarians can register to download educational posters and related materials.

The Smithsonian continues to offer its September 11: Bearing 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. The Learning Network also posted teachers’ 9/11 lesson ideas and projects.

National Geographic offers an article on the heroes of September 11 and the days following the attacks. Heroes of 9/11 by Kate Boatner and Libby Romero includes the people who used their boats and ferries to rescue almost 500,000 on 9/11 as well as the residents of Gander, Newfoundland, who for several days sheltered thousands of passengers of planes ordered to land immediately after the attacks. Boatner and Romero have also written Remembering 9/11, recounting events as they unfolded and summarizing government response in the decades since. The article provides a succinct overview for older middle grades students.

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.

CNN offers a 2020 look back, including video of the attacks, here.

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 (now Learning for Justice – 2021) 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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