History classes highlight attacks

Lessons describe terrorist strikes as a turning point in U.S. history.
Sunday, September 12, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:46 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Now that the phrase “Since Sept. 11” has embedded itself in the American vocabulary, local U.S. history teachers are making sure their lesson plans don’t gloss over the watershed event.

The Columbia school district’s 11th-grade U.S. history curriculum has been revised to include teaching on Sept. 11.

The updated course now places an emphasis on the date as a turning point in U.S. history, said Patti Watts, who teaches the subject at Hickman High School.

“We’re certainly using the event to bring home the idea that the world today is different now than it was before 9/11,” Watts said.

Although the Sept. 11 unit will not be taught until next spring, students in Greg Mees and Watts’ classes discussed the attacks on Sept. 10. Mees is a Hickman U.S. history and government teacher who served on the curriculum committee.

Mees’ government students spent time writing and discussing their reflections on the attacks.

Their assessments expressed a swinging pendulum of teenage angst and defiance: fear that the U.S. is open to another attack, confidence that the world is safer, and recognition that the event is far more significant than they thought three years ago.

The events of that Tuesday in September are beginning to fade from students’ memories, according to Mees.

“You have a lot different perspective on things when you’re in seventh grade,” Mees said of his sophomore government students.

When Mees asked his second-period class to say what the future of the U.S. holds, he was met with a prolonged moment of silence.

Hickman student Michelle Davis, 17, said she was glad that students were talking about the attacks during school. Discussions on Sept. 11 can help students recognize their own bias toward the United States or against others in the conflict, Michelle said.

“I think if we talk about Sept. 11 and really give thought to both sides, it would be a lot better and a lot easier to deal with,” she said.

The teenager said that discussing Sept. 11 also helps her in the healing process. Davis’ aunt died in the World Trade Center attacks.

“If you talk about it, the grief goes away,” Davis said. “You get a little stronger.”

A committee of seven U.S. history teachers from Rock Bridge and Hickman high schools met throughout the past academic year to update the district’s curriculum. In the process, the committee realized the course needed to formally address the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Watts said.

For the first time, the district’s official U.S. history curriculum includes a mini-unit on Sept. 11, following instruction on World War II.

“It was put there on purpose because World War II was a defining moment for the U.S.,” Mees said.

The new curriculum will help students draw a firm comparison between the United States’ role as a superpower post-World War II and post-Sept. 11, Mees said.

By teaching Sept. 11 alongside WWII, pupils also can make comparisons between Pearl Harbor and the attacks in New York and Washington, Mees said.

“This is something that is in their experience, although longer and longer ago each year,” said John Deken, who also teaches U.S. history at Hickman. “They can see how much an event can affect them personally and, at the same time, be important historically.”

“History doesn’t have a lot of utility for 17-year-olds, so every opportunity we have, we want to convince them it is a viable topic,” Watts said.

Teaching about Sept. 11 is essential to helping students become good citizens, said Deken, whose class will tackle the subject Monday.

“Continuing to be a major issue in the election is the global war on terror and why we’re in Iraq and present in Afghanistan,” Deken said. “Where does that come from? Precisely from 9/11.”

Judy Trujillo, K-12social studies coordinator for the district, said the U.S. history curriculum is updated every five years to meet Missouri School Improvement Program requirements. Trujillo said the new curriculum does not hinge on Sept. 11 but includes the unit to present the attacks as a pivotal moment in modern American history.

The curriculum committee will meet again at the end of the school year to evaluate the pilot curriculum, Trujillo said.

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