More By Author
September 09, 2009
October 09, 2009
This week, teachers across the land are greeting students, assigning seats, issuing textbooks, struggling to remember everyone's name?and doing their best to teach one of the most challenging lessons of the year: the events of September 11, 2001, why they happened, why they matter, and why we are commemorating them.
[pullquote]The United States didn't come with a warranty. It has always had to be defended against real threats and bona fide enemies.[/pullquote]
All sorts of organizations (including ours) are jockeying to ease teachers' burden?and influence their instruction?by offering texts, activities, guidance, even entire curricula. Some of these are fine: accurate, thorough, balanced yet patriotic. (See, for example, lessons prepared for high school students by the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.) Others, alas, are wimpy, biased, or apologetic and may well do teachers and pupils more harm than good.
The U.S. Department of Education unveiled its own dismaying contribution last week. Its ?9/11 Materials for Teachers? exemplifies the creeping tendency in educator-land?especially in the woeful field known as ?social studies??to obscure the true history of September 11 and focus instead on a slanted, garbled evaluation of what followed.
No doubt Secretary Duncan's team wanted to be helpful to classroom instructors. Surely they felt an obligation to say something about 9/11. But what they ended up with illustrates both the deepening risk that the next generation of young Americans will be clueless about the true significance of that epochal date in history and the hazards of Uncle Sam tangling at all with the school curriculum.
The agency starts out with a whopping disclaimer, alerting readers that it ?does not control or guarantee the accuracy, relevance, timeliness, or completeness of these materials, nor does the inclusion of links to these materials represent an endorsement of these materials or organizations that created them.? Nice try. What follows, however, needs more than a disclaimer.
The federal website also links to myriad federal and outside sources that urge community service or tolerance?and some, to be fair, that are content-rich. The Library of Congress collection of primary source accounts and the National Archives records of the 9/11 Commission are powerful resources, but readers get little advice as to how to deploy them in the classroom.
Taken as a whole, the Education Department's main (if unstated) message is painfully clear: Teachers should strive to safeguard Muslim students from bullying, should encourage kids to investigate whether government efforts to fight terrorism have violated civil liberties, and should promote non-violence over military action.
Such lessons have their place but this presentation radically overstates their significance and misses what really matters.
So what should teachers help their students understand about 9/11?
That's too much to expect from a federal agency, particularly in an administration that so often opts to ?lead from behind.? The Education Department would have been well-advised not even to try. And the nation's educators would be well-advised to draw their guidance from other sources.
?Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Tyson Eberhardt