Peace Works Travel Blog

Monday, September 12, 2011

How to Teach About 9/11 Without Oversimplifying

As global educators, we are entrusted with the challenge of making the incomprehensible understood.

The Los Angeles Times ran a nice cover story regarding the challenge that 9/11 presents for teachers and students.  

Ten years ago, I remember announcing the news of the Twin Towers terrorist attacks to my 9:00 a.m. 9th grade history students.  We cried. We were stupefied, brought low and unified in our grief.  I remember repeatedly answering the barrage of questions with the most honest answer an adult can give a child: “I don’t know.” 

Over the next few weeks, the kids’ questions multiplied and revealed the depth of our collective confusion: “Why do they hate us?” “What’s a Muslim?” “What did we ever do to them?” “Are the hijackers really going to be rewarded with 72 virgins when they get to heaven?”

Desperate to convey a complex understanding of the multi-faceted tragedy, I found an excellent source:  9/11 As History Project. Created by teachers, the project gets to the essence of the tragedy: Motive. Herein are extended lessons, activities, enrichment and a concluding project for a holistic understanding of relevant history preceding 9/11. Whose history?  The curriculum explores how U.S. foreign policy since the Balfour Declaration has shaped attitudes, geographic boundaries and distribution of resources in the Middle East. 

While the killing of civilians is a horror without justification, students understand that the “What did we ever do to them?” question has answers reaching back generations. 

Ultimately, we want to use 9/11 to impart lessons of civilized conflict resolution. The cycle of revenge has no winners. Students learn this critical lesson on our educational tours to the countries of our former adversaries. One cannot spend time with the innocent victims of warfare and fail to comprehend the futility of vengeance. It is here that tragedy becomes instructive: how do we to teach kids to dissolve the enmity between “us” and “them?” 

One Answer: Peace-Conferencing. The tragedy of 9/11 inspired a visionary high school teacher, Kristen Druker, to innovate a synthesis of international relations and technology. Check out this incredible web-based global conflict resolution platform.  

Druker has created a brilliant classroom instructional tool in which students act as parties to real-world conflicts, using methods of true-life diplomatic peace-negotiations. Watch them in action:  Students understand that discovering mutually-acceptable solutions to complex world problems is far more powerful than imposing unilateral force of will.

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