Ten years later, it’s time to ‘broaden the context’

Ten years ago this week, I, like many living in Washington at the time, was fleeing my office building. In those minutes of mayhem, I knew only what the police were screaming: Get out fast, because we’re being attacked by terrorists.

In the years since 9/11, we’ve learned a lot about that awf

ul day — and about ourselves.

We’ve learned, for instance, about the attack’s mechanics — we know which particular terrorists orchestrated it and how many lives those mass murderers tragically destroyed. We also know about 9/11’s long-term legacy — we have health care data showing that it

created a kind of mass post-traumatic stress disorder, and we have evidence that it generated a significant rise in anti-Muslim bigotry. And, of course, we’ve learned that our government can turn catastrophes like 9/11 into political weapons that successfully coerce America into supporting wars and relinquishing civil liberties.

Yet, despite all of this new knowledge, we still don’t know how to explain 9/11 to the next generation. As the magazine Education Week reports, “Fewer than half the states explicitly identify the 9/11 attacks in their high school standards for social studies” — and the relatively few schools that do discuss 9/11 often spend just a few minutes on it.

As a result, reports the magazine, “Many students today may have only vague notions of 9/11, since they were young or not even born when the attacks occurred.” Worse, those “vague notions” are often defined by America’s crude popular culture.

“Kids are no longer coming into the classroom as a blank slate — they have something they’ve been told (about 9/11) at home, at church, on Facebook, Twitter,” says the University of Texas’s Middle Eastern studies expert Christopher Rose, who adds that this leaves many children wrongly believing that “(Muslims) are all crazy — they all hate us.”

Clearly, many schools are afraid that 9/11 is too touchy a topic, and that no matter how educators might address it, they would inevitably face parental ire. To know that fear is legitimate is to imagine being a teacher trying to follow the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, which asks Americans to “raise complex questions” and “broaden the context for understanding the 9/11 attacks.” Pursuing such a worthy goal in a classroom would mean informing kids about taboo truths.

Children would have to be told, for instance, about how the U.S. government funded the Afghan mujahadeen, elements of which ultimately supported the group that orchestrated 9/11 attacks. They would have to learn about how America’s meddling in the Islamic world (invasions, occupations, support for brutal dictators, etc.) has inspired what the CIA calls retributive “blowback” from terrorists. And kids would have to hear about how 9/11 was used as a justification by American politicians to invade Iraq and kill thousands of innocent Iraqis, even though that country had nothing to do with 9/11.

No doubt, reciting these facts typically gets one vilified by saber-rattling ideologues who want 9/11 to serve only as a no-questions-asked rationale for more war and bigotry. And so schools, understandably — and unfortunately — avoid the topic, even though children need to know these facts to properly “broaden the context.”

Thus, we arrive at the implicit challenge of this week’s 9/11 anniversary: to grow up. That means finally rejecting the culture of fear, demagoguery and intimidation and instead beginning a more mature dialogue about uncomfortable truths.

A decade after the attacks, such a conversation is long overdue — but it cannot occur in our schools until it starts happening throughout all of American society.

David Sirota is a syndicated columnist based in Denver. His email address is ds@davidsirota.com.

Talk to us

More in Opinion

FILE — In this Sept. 17, 2020 file photo, provided by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Chelbee Rosenkrance, of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, holds a male sockeye salmon at the Eagle Fish Hatchery in Eagle, Idaho. Wildlife officials said Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021, that an emergency trap-and-truck operation of Idaho-bound endangered sockeye salmon, due to high water temperatures in the Snake and Salomon rivers, netted enough fish at the Granite Dam in eastern Washington, last month, to sustain an elaborate hatchery program. (Travis Brown/Idaho Department of Fish and Game via AP, File)
Editorial: Pledge to honor treaties can save Columbia’s salmon

The Biden administration commits to honoring tribal treaties and preserving the rivers’ benefits.

Editorial cartoons for Saturday, Sept. 30

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Eco-nomics: Climate report card: Needs more effort but shows promise

A UN report shows we’re not on track to meet goals, but there are bright spots with clean energy.

Comment: Child tax credit works against child povery; renew it

After the expanded credit ended in 2021, child poverty doubled. It’s an investment we should make.

Matthew Leger
Forum: Amenian festival shows global reach of vounteers

A Kamiak student helped organize a festival and fundraiser for the people of a troubled region.

Dan Hazen
Forum: Things aren’t OK, boomers; but maybe the kids are

Older generations wrote the rules to fit their desires, but maybe there’s hope in their grandchildren.

Comment:Transition to clean energy isn’t moving quickly enough

Solar energy and EV sales are booming but we have a long way to go to come near our global warming goal.

Patricia Gambis, right, talks with her 4-year-old twin children, Emma, left, and Etienne in their home, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019, in Maplewood, N.J. Gambis' husband, an FBI agent, has been working without pay during the partial United States government shutdown, which has forced the couple to take financial decisions including laying off their babysitter. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Editorial: Shutdown hits kids, families at difficult moment

The shutdown risks food aid for low-income families as child poverty doubled last year and child care aid ends.

Editorial cartoons for Friday, Sept. 29

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Most Read