CECIL COUNTY — Though the content of lessons around 9/11, as one of the turning points in modern American history, has remained relatively the same over the years in Cecil County Public Schools, the discussion around the event has changed as a new generation of students, who did not live through the event, come through the classroom.
“The question students always have is why?” James Zimmer, instructional coordinator for social studies said. “Why did it happen? Why did they attack? What did we do as a result? “
9/11 is taught to secondary school students, since terror acts are considered heavy subjects for younger learners. In the morning there is an announcement in each secondary school, remembering the event and honoring first responders, followed by a moment of silence.
“When you make an announcement like that for 5-, 6- and 7-year-olds, where do you go with? It’s such a heavy topic,” Zimmer said. “Many of them are going to have a hard time conceptualizing that.”
Social Studies can provide a lesson if they choose, but 9/11 is also a part of the curriculum for 7th grade social studies, high school US history and elective Contemporary World Studies.
“It focuses on things like global conflict and international and domestic policy,” Zimmer said.
Zimmer was teaching at Perryville Middle School when the terrorism attack occurred. He said the event started with children being called for dismal, as parents started getting their kids after the attack. Students began to question what’s happening, but teachers were unaware of what was going on, outside of the knowledge there had been an attack.
“During my lunch period, I remember going to find a TV and turning on the news so I could see what was going on,” Zimmer said. “ I do remember being at Perryville, not that far from Aberdeen, that apprehension and nervousness and that feeling of ‘is this coming here next.’”
Zimmer remembered the next day attendance being down and that alot of students wanted to discuss the event, similar to when other current events happen, but that they went into their lesson for the day.
“We did have a brief conversation around it, and gave kids some time to share where they were,” Zimmer said. “It wasn’t an incredibly long amount of time, because so many kids have talked about it at home. We had that conversation in the beginning and then went into our lesson for the day.”
Zimmer compared 9/11 to the Kennedy assassination, as his parents could remember exactly where they were. He said students often discuss the event with their parents, especially if their parents or other family members are involved with the military or are first responders.
“Kids had that personal connection that they, too, could share where they were,” Zimmer said. “I think anybody who was alive at that time, you ask them now, where were you, that pretty much can tell you that, obviously students don’t have that today.”
Zimmer said the event got woven into the curriculum quickly, but that the conversations have remained relatively similar, as the questions students have remain the same, and the curriculum has always focused on the facts of what happened and why.
“It’s always put within that context of why and what happened,” Zimmer said. “I really say that the biggest change is just the conversation in class just because of the distance that students today have from the actual event and from the lack of the personal connection.”
Zimmer said the courses discuss how 9/11 caused the U.S to become more involved with terror, and a timeline of other terror attacks that occurred, such as the 1983 Beirut bombing. Zimmer said the topic teaches about cultural differences and ideology along with the history of groups in the middle east creating instability.
“What happens throughout history is that those who feel they don’t have power and control, they strike back,” Zimmer said.
Zimmer said the event changed foreign and domestic policy, creating agencies such as the Transportation Security Administration. The event is one of the few foreign attacks on US soil, as geographically the US is relatively isolated.
“When those events come across the oceans, they haven’t happened often in our history, but when they do they’re definitely flashpoints,” Zimmer said.