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Teachers untangle Sept. 11 lessons

Most schools plan to commemorate the date. But the effect of the attacks on classroom instruction has varied widely.

By KENT FISCHER, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 9, 2002


Most schools plan to commemorate the date. But the effect of the attacks on classroom instruction has varied widely.

Students at River Ridge Middle School will honor local firefighters and police on Wednesday with a courtyard ceremony, the Star-Spangled Banner and a loud "Hip-hip hooray!"

At Ridgewood High, students are planning a patriotic mural in rememberance of the events of Sept. 11, while at Hudson High the J-ROTC squad will lead a ceremony for students and residents needing to retire old flags.

Nearly every Pasco school has a tribute planned for this week's anniversary of last year's terrorist attacks. Harder to gauge, however, is what sort of impact the attacks and the subsequent "war on terror" have had on the classroom curriculum.

Teachers said they expect new editions of history and political science textbooks to include substantial information about the attacks. But with the plodding pace of textbook publishing, those books aren't likely to be out for a while.

In the short term, many organizations -- from political think tanks to magazine publishers -- have put out packets of teacher lesson plans. District administrators chose some of the better packets and made them available to teachers. How many actually use those prepackaged lessons, however, is difficult to determine.

"We're not sitting here saying, "I think I'm going to teach my 9/11 curriculum today,' " said Marlyn Bavetta, head of the Social Studies department at Ridgewood.

What is happening, she and several other teachers said, is a subtle integration of 9/11 issues into broader lessons.

Hudson teacher Ron Eckstein has used the events after the attacks to explore how government reacts in a crisis. His classes have discussed presidential powers and paralleled the discrimination Muslims faced to the internment of Japanese-American citizens during World War II.

"We're trying not to make this an isolated event," Eckstein said. "We want them to look at this in the broader panorama of American history. . . . If we can look at how we responded to the attacks and evaluate the response, then maybe we can learn from it."

Teachers said the impact of the attacks has been felt most in high schools. Middle school history curriculum ends with 1877, and although the students have examined Sept. 11 in current events and geography classes, there appears to be little widespread change.

Elementary teachers have initiated some simple, general discussions about terrorism and the events, but have been urged to keep those talks to a minimum.

High school history and current events classes, however, are a different story.

"We've had discussions about civil liberties," said Zephyrhills High history teacher Jean McNary. "The kids have to understand that (9/11) is going to be their generation's moment in history. We were affected by it, but we don't want to talk about it every day."

Dwelling on the attacks, or treating them as an isolated event, would be the wrong approach, several teachers said.

"We could just give the kids a bunch of facts to memorize, or we could ask them to talk about it and reflect," said Hudson's Eckstein. "My primary job is to help create responsible citizens. I can't do that by professing."

-- Kent Fischer covers education in Pasco County. He can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6241 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6241. His e-mail address is kfischer@sptimes.com.

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