Not one of the teenagers who walks the halls at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts has lived in a world where New York City’s Twin Towers existed.
We don’t know what life was like before Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorist attacks brought down the World Trade Center, killing 2,977 people (this includes the attack on the Pentagon and passengers and crew who died in Shanksville, Pa., plane crash). And that begs an important question: Are people born after this historic and tragic event learning enough about it in school?
Alison Swartz, who has taught U.S. History for over 16 years, has seen changes in how students respond to the tragedy.
“In the beginning they’re kind of like– indifferent,” Swartz said of lessons and class discussions. “And I don’t mean that like they don’t care. But it’s just so far away from them, where they don’t necessarily understand. Whereas for people my age who are older, y’know, that lived through it, it’s still a tender subject to us.”
After students watch what happened during the terrorist attacks, a change is sparked, Swartz said. Watching the towers fall on video causes students to have emotional reactions. Students gasp, cover their mouths with their hands, and even leave class in some cases.
More recent classes seem to be more curious about the attacks. They ask a lot of questions.
“I get a lot of conspiracy theories… and so we try to get rid of all those conspiracy theories and throw them in the trash,” Swartz said.
Their less established understanding of the tragedy can lead to more disconnected beliefs. Swartz said most adults who lived through the tragedy are less likely to believe in these theories, as opposed to students who didn’t experience it, and see conspiracies on sites like YouTube or Reddit.
Some students, like Cole Allison, a sophomore at DA, feel 9/11 should be talked about more in school.
“In general I’ve seen a lot, like documentaries, videos, read books, my parents taught me all about it,” Allison said. “But from a school point of view, they don’t really talk about it too much.”
Other students also said they have been taught very little about it in history classes.
“They haven’t really focused on it or anything in school- the most I remember being taught in school is that last year Ms. Swartz talked about it,” said Eli Maddox, senior. “And then, in 6th grade, they showed us a video about it.”
Jackson Moser, a junior, said he learned about 9/11 from his parents, or through comedians like Pete Davidson, who raise awareness through humor.
While teaching newer students about 9/11, Swartz notices their willingness to speak about the subject.
“I think they want to know,” she said. “Like whenever I say we’re gonna learn about it they’re like ‘oh yeah!’ because nobody ever talks about it.”
Terrance Souder, who has been teaching science for 31 years, also thinks the subject should come up more in school. He agreed that some student’s beliefs are misguided.
“We need to have frank discussions about what the truth really is, and really educate everybody on the painful truth,” Souder said.
Regardless of the newer generation’s lack of connectivity to 9/11, that doesn’t mean they don’t take the time to learn about it.
“What I’ve seen in the growth of students is the awareness,” Souder said. “Young folks are so much more engaged with what’s going on in the world.”
Overall, an understanding of 9/11 often comes from sources outside of the school system, but that doesn’t mean the tragedy doesn’t impact students, or that they don’t understand its weight.
Students like Allison expressed the fear 9/11 has instilled in him. “9/11 is a tragic thing that it honestly- it kinda scares me.”
Allison had been researching the topic a lot the past few days, and watching documentaries like One Day In America- a series recently released on Hulu.
“It just makes you feel so unsafe, because these poor people- they have no idea what’s happening. They really didn’t,” he said. “And there was no way they could have prepared for it or anything, so it just really makes you feel kind of like — alone.”
Swartz said the district has little involvement in teaching 9/11.
“They really haven’t provided anything. And I don’t fault them for that,” she said. “In history we generally don’t analyze [recent] things- we give it 20 years.”
With the 20th anniversary marked today, Swartz hopes that the district will soon provide lesson plans pertaining to the tragedy.
“I think it’s something that we need to remember,” she said. “Everybody needs to take a pause and kind of go backwards, and though it’s hard and uncomfortable to watch and to feel, we need to honor those people who went through that experience by being there and being present.”