Reflections of Blending English and Technology in the Classroom

Remembering 9/11 – A Lesson in Empathy

with 3 comments

This year marked the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, and while I distinctly remember the events that unfolded on that tragic day, my seniors were only in second grade and recall scattered fragments or nothing at all. During a group skype call between the teachers of the blogging community (5 schools where students blog/comment enhancing engagement and widening audience to promote writing) we decided to create a collaborative lesson plan to teach our students empathy, citizenship, and patriotism with the end product in the form of an imovie.

Building a foundation of the tragedy with resources found on the NYTimes Learning Network Blog; teachers @eolsonteacher, @shawnhyervm, @Bev-Berns, @toddvogts, and myself  shared videos, pictures, and reflections with students. We then allowed students to explore the plethora of links found on the blog and report back to the large group their findings. What happened was an emotional connection to the day that most had a disconnect with because of age. Empathetic stories of victims, family members, and heroes were retold through the voice of our students. One student even stated, “I have not thought about or viewed footage from that day for so long, I can finally understand what happened and how horrible it was.” As teachers, this type of response is music to our ears. We want to help mold a future generation of insightful, empathetic citizens who will lead our world in the future.

The next day we used a strategy taught by @KirsteyEwald during an experience while taking the Iowa Writing Project (a division of the National Writing Project). Students wrote answers to prompts on sticky notes which were then complied and edited to form a poem. Each school had different questions ranging from “How do you define America?” to “How can one honor the lives lost during the attacks?” Each student spoke their line and placed an image of their hand into the project. Teachers shared the movies using dropbox culminating in one movie written, spoken, and illustrated by the students!

Students proudly shared their video with family and friends. It floated around facebook and was highlighted in local newspapers and on local news stations making the Anniversary of September 11th more meaningful.


Written by sfarnsworth

October 6, 2011 at 8:38 pm

3 Responses

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  1. That was certainly a moving video.

    At the start a girl says, “9/11 A message of remembrance, hope and peace…..”

    It seems a shame there was no mention of ‘understanding’ too.

    Of course, understanding can only come from asking questions, looking at the facts and applying critical thinking. As young adults these seniors are being handed a post 9/11 world – a world of perpetual wars (of both terror and occupation) and a world with a severely eroded constitution (and the equivalent in other countries) with, for example, the suspension of basic human rights such as ‘habeas corpus’.

    Seeing as they are to inherit such an insecure and violent world, do they not at least deserve the chance to make some kind of sense of this event (and its ramifications) from an intellectual standpoint, rather than just ‘coming to terms with it’ on the most basic and simplistic emotional level?

    Could we not, as teachers (parents, guardians, family members), encourage them – perhaps even help them?! – to look more deeply into this event than merely writing one or two word slogans onto their hands?

    For example:

    Perhaps we could help them to understand that more money was spent investigating the Monica Lewinsky affair than was spent investigating 9/11, despite it being one of the worst crimes in US history. And that the co chairs of the 9/11 Commission have now come out and said that they were ‘set up to fail’ (they even wrote a book about it).

    Perhaps we could help them to understand that the 9/11 Commission Report never even mentioned WTC 7, a 47 story skyscraper that collapsed vertically, at free fall speed (for over 2 seconds), symmetrically and right into its own footprint at 5.20pm on the afternoon of 9/11, or that the building’s destruction was reported by the BBC over 20 minutes BEFORE it came down and that the buildings owner Larry Silverstein admitted in a PBS documentary that they had decided to “pull the building” (a controlled demolition term).

    Perhaps we could help them to understand that the 9/11 Commission never actually investigated the explosive and faster than free fall destruction of WTC 1 and 2 either. They only offered an account of the events leading up to the point of (quote) ‘collapse initiation’. ie up to the very start of the ‘collapse’, but not the destruction itself.

    They also said they found no evidence of a controlled demolition or explosives, but then later admitted they had never actually LOOKED for such evidence at all. This is in direct contradiction of the codes and practices which should have been used for this investigation of both a crime scene AND (supposedly) the greatest civil engineering failure in the history of steel framed buildings (3 times in one day).

    Perhaps we could help them to understand that the so called 9/11 ‘truth movement’ was spearheaded by the family members of victims such as Bob Mcilvaine as well as first responders, WTC employees such as Willie Rodriquez and Barry Jennings as well as government whistleblowers such as Sibel Edmunds as well as at least 118 quality witnesses who heard/ saw explosions and bombs going off in the buildings.

    Perhaps we could help them to understand the basic physics of the towers’ destruction and how the scientific method can be used to make sense of what actually happened to those buildings.

    Perhaps we could help them to understand that Bin Laden family and the Bush family were business partners and that Osama’s brother even helped GW Bush set up his first oil company Arbusto And that immediately after 9/11 the entire Bin Laden family were flown out of the US, without being questioned, at a time when civilian flights were still grounded.

    Perhaps we could help them to understand about PNAC and their 2000 manifesto ‘Rebuilding American Defenses’ which called for a huge expansion of America’s militaristic capabilities and technologies enabling her to invade and take over countries across the world (including Iraq) and that this document admitted that the American public would not agree to such aggressive militaristic objectives without some kind of (quote) ‘catastrophic and catalyzing event, like a new Pearl Harbor…’

    (The authors of that manifesto were put into power a year later as the Bush administration, and a year after that document was written 9/11 happened).

    Perhaps we could help them to understand the parallels that can be drawn between the Reichstag Fire and 9/11 as well as the concept of false flag terrorism and ‘problem – reaction – solution’

    Perhaps we could help them to put 9/11 into a wider geopolitical context.

    Perhaps we can help them to gain a better grasp of what the political elite get up to in their spare time when they are not giving speeches and encouraging us to equate patriotism with giving them more power and going to fight profitable wars (profitable for them, not us).

    Perhaps we could help them to understand how the psychological effects of traumatic events like 9/11 can affect our critical thinking and even be used against us (‘shock and awe’).

    Perhaps we could help them to see what a true scientific investigation/ rational deductive thought process looks like.

    Perhaps we could just help them to think critically about the likelihood of the official story of 9/11 as it stands today, as promoted by the corporate mass media and the government, being actually true.

    Perhaps we could help them to understand what terrorism actually means!

    Or perhaps we should do all we can to stop them ever understanding any of these things because, as facilitators of state ‘education’, a teacher’s job (whether fully realized or not) is to keep the next generation as dumbed down and ignorant as possible…… so that history can repeat, crimes can be perpetuated and violent, criminal power structures remain supported and endorsed by all.

    Those in school today will soon be running the world. In only a decade or two we will all be dependent on their level wisdom and understanding … or we will be at the mercy of their ignorance, fears, lack of understanding and their propagandized minds.

    This future scenario is decided by us all right now.

    In this information age, we can stop history repeating, but only if we make that extra effort to foster a hunger for true understanding and a new generation capable of critical thinking 🙂


    October 7, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    • Thank you for your thoughtful response and links to wonderful resources that students may consider. While you are correct in stating that the imovie did not mention the word “understanding” I believe, to write your thoughts about an event in a limited amount of space or words demands an “understanding” that was demonstrated in the classroom and their writing. Furthermore, much was done before and after the movie for the unit as a whole. Students in the schools had classroom discussions, researched an area of interest about the events and wrote, reflected and blogged about their findings. The posts varied in topics from the structural make-up of the towers to conspiracy theories; as well as addressing a post- 9/11 world highlighting security, global relations etc. The examples you offer in your comment were the focus of many of our students (and with 5 schools that is around 250 bloggers).
      This post was only part of the unit, sorry for the confusion. I will share your response with my students! Your response is a great teachable moment. Throughout their lifetime my students will meet people who disagree with them, challenge them, etc. To understand that a person’s truth is just as strong and right as your own is a hard thing to consider. You have given me a perfect opportunity to do this by reflecting on your writing, identifying fallacies, understanding your motives, and modeling how to respond thoughtfully to challenges.


      October 7, 2011 at 1:41 pm

      • Wow. Thank you so much for your reply! You give me hope! 🙂

        I apologize if I came across as overly negative or critical of the project or those involved (both teachers and students). I am well aware that huge numbers of ‘young people’ today have more of a social, political, philosophical awareness and understanding than most adults before them have ever achieved in their lifetimes. There is so much positivity out there.

        And I hold my hands up – when I was at school I had zero interest in, or knowledge of, current affairs. No one else did either. This was in pre-internet times (only just!). All we had was the stuffy TV news.

        But I think the flip side of today’s (potentially) more informed generation who have a more balanced world view (built from many sources and not just one mainstream source) is that they will inevitably be regarded as a threat by the existing ‘establishment’ who previously owned and controlled all ‘news’ media and enjoyed a near monopoly on news information.

        I am sure this is partly why the internet, which used to be championed (quite rightly) as a vast resource of information – a free library of knowledge for all to access, is now so often portrayed as an unsavory place for ‘crazies’ and ‘basement dwelling tin foil hat wearing conspiracy nutjobs’ to hang out it in. Sure, we shouldn’t automatically ‘believe’ every source of information we come across – of course not! ….. but that applies just as much to the the mainstream media too! (Touché)

        I think my concerns expressed above were partly a reaction to the news that over here in the UK teachers are to be encouraged to promote so called ‘digital literacy’ in schemes that absolutely reek of Orwellian double think. (ie questioning authority = poor thinking)

        Also during a recent unveiling of a 9/11 memorial, the Mayor of London announced a new initiative to force the official version of 9/11 onto children in schools. Some might view that as education, some might view it as indoctrination….. You can view the education program here.

        While announcing this scheme the mayor actually had the audacity to speak of the need for a “controlled demolition” of all the 9/11 conspiracy theories.

        Quite apart from the gross offensiveness of this statement given the fact that many of the survivors and victims’ families themselves believe (or are at least open to the idea that) WTC 1, 2 and 7 were destroyed in a controlled demolition (see previous links), such remarks also reveal a worrying trend in this post 9/11 age….

        We now have this idea that ‘truth’ somehow needs defending against attacks (against questions and thoughts!). ‘Truth’ always used to be the end result of asking questions (often very difficult and challenging questions) and of thinking about things! Truth is the thing which remains after all falsehoods have been questioned, tested, identified and discarded. This is how reason, science and logic work, right?

        Yet today truth is increasingly being defined as some sort of brittle, untouchable, officially endorsed, mass media generated consensus tower of propaganda to be taught in schools and never ever questioned or challenged.

        What age are we really living in today? One based on science and reason ….. or fear and superstition?

        Anyway, that’s me done! Thanks for listening and replying to my ramblings, and keep up the good work!

        ps and tell your students that for all the seriousness and importance assigned to the political process and our (s)elected world leaders, the world is actually run a lot more like an episode of Scooby Doo than we are led to believe ….. and that they should never be afraid to take on the role of ‘those pesky kids’ 😉


        October 7, 2011 at 4:12 pm

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