Teaching the Lessons of 9/11

Teaching the Lessons of 9/11

As the first anniversary of September 11 approached, a controversy over the meaning of that fateful day and the place it will occupy in our national self-understanding irrupted into public view. The debate emerged not as battling manifestos by prominent intellectuals or as dueling polemics in the leading political journals, but from a struggle over how 9/11 would be taught in the nation’s public schools. If they could agree on nothing else, all parties to this debate believed that the battle for their vision of 9/11 would be won or lost in the classroom.

The first sign of the controversy was a front-page story in the August 19, 2002 edition of the conservative Washington Times, published under the headline “NEA Delivers History Lesson.” The article accused the larger of the two national teacher unions, the National Education Association, of adopting a “blame America” approach to teaching about 9/11. With supportive commentary from Phyllis Schlafly and other figures of the far right, the Times set its sights on the NEA’s Remember 9/11 Web site, created to help teachers prepare lessons for the anniversary. According to the Times article, Remember 9/11 and the NEA were full of “lies”; they saw the defense of “Western culture” as the “ultimate sin”; they failed to teach children that “the root of the problem lay in Islamic teaching.”


Leo Casey has been nationally recognized for his work teaching civics and social studies. He works for the United Federation of Teachers in New York City.

Websites discussed in this article:

American Federation of Teachers: Commemorating September 11

Educators for Social Responsibility: Teaching After 9/11 and the War in Afghanistan

Facing History and Ourselves: A Year Later: Considering the Legacies of September 11

Fordham Foundation: September 11: What Our Children Need to Know

National Association of School Psychologists: One Year Later: A 9/11 Memorial

National Council for Social Studies: Teachable Moments: September 11

National Educational Associatio...