People look on as smoke from the burning World Trade Center towers fills up the downtown Manhattan skyline after both buildings were attacked by airplanes on September 11, 2001 in New York City.

Chalkbeat asked readers who were in school on September 11, 2001, to share what they remember about that day, 20 years ago. (Andrew Lichtenstein / Corbis vis Getty Images)

On 9/11, they were at school. Here’s what happened inside their classrooms.

Chalkbeat asked teachers and students what they remember about that day of terror 20 years later..

9/11 school essay

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It was the beginning of the school day at the beginning of the school year at the beginning of the millennium. Millions of American children were in classrooms on the morning of September 11, 2001, when hijackers flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Then-President George W. Bush was in the classroom , too — reading with young Florida students until his chief of staff whispered in his ear: “America is under attack.”

Across the country that morning, there were hushed conversations among teachers and attempts to explain to students what was happening — or shield them from it. Students remember pained looks on their teachers’ faces. Some said it was the reaction of the adults around them, rather than the images of burning buildings and pulverized steel, that conveyed the life-changing nature of the attacks. 

News back then moved slowly by today’s standards. The world was still largely without smartphones or social media. Teachers and students watched the news on boxy TVs strapped to rolling carts that moved between classrooms. Across the country that day, lesson plans were futile. Then, one by one, students were called out of class as parents arrived early to bring them home.

9/11 school essay

U.S. President George W. Bush (center) makes a telephone call as White House Director of Communications Dan Bartlett points to video footage of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center from Emma Booker Elementary School on September 11, 2001 in Sarasota, Florida. (Eric Draper / The White House / Getty Images)

In New York City, things were even more dramatic —  the day’s horrific events were playing out nearby. At P.S. 1, in Lower Manhattan, one teacher remembers another lowering the shades so kindergartners wouldn’t see the burning towers out the window. At P.S. 124, a few blocks away, another teacher watched as crowds covered in ash walked toward Brooklyn. New York City educators did their best to provide students a steady hand even as some feared for loved ones who worked in the towers, or struggled to get through to friends and family on jammed phone lines. There were harrowing evacuations,  long walks home, and eerily silent subway rides. 

As for the aftermath of 9/11, some teachers and students recalled with nostalgia how Americans came together, and they wondered if such shows of unity would be possible today. Others saw the attacks as having the opposite effect, citing the rise in Islamophobia, and long, costly, and polarizing wars that are only now ending.

With the 20th anniversary of 9/11 approaching, Chalkbeat asked those in school on that day to share what they remember and what they think K-12 students growing up today should know about the generation-defining terror attacks.

These are their words, edited for length and clarity. 

Paula McDonel was teaching a World Geography class at Collierville High School in Collierville, Tennessee, when a colleague, looking somber,  entered her classroom.

She asked me where my husband, a FedEx pilot, was that morning. I said he was home. Only then did she tell me that a commercial plane had struck the World Trade Center. I asked my students if anyone had a parent that was flying on a plane that morning. Our community had many pilots and others who may have been flying. No one in my class did. We had finished our lesson, so I turned on CNN, thinking this would be part of the current events we covered in class that week. We didn’t understand how radically our day was changing.

McDonel is retired and lives in Rosharon, Texas.

9/11 school essay

Debbie Castellani, seen here c. 2001, was teaching alongside her mentor in Cambridge, Massachusetts when the news broke. (Courtesy of Debbie Castellani)

Debbie Castellani, then a student-teacher at Cambridge Rindge and Latin high school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was teaching a World History class alongside her mentor teacher.

Suddenly, another teacher burst into the room and yelled: “Oh my goodness, the World Trade Center was just bombed!” The students started to chatter, and we tried to calm them, frustrated that this teacher thought it appropriate to share this publicly in front of the students, but also concerned about this news. 

Between periods, my mentor teacher and I were able to slip into a workroom where a science teacher had a television. This was all pre-smartphone. The news featured the first World Trade tower with smoke billowing from the side, and the newscasters were sharing that a plane had crashed into the building. Then, suddenly, we saw the second plane flying into the south tower.

Castellani is now a high school history teacher in Highland Park, Illinois.

Yvette Ho taught kindergarten at P.S. 1 Alfred Smith School in Lower Manhattan. On the morning of 9/11, she remembers hearing a crash, followed by sirens.

I was a new teacher at the school and was so unaware of the events that were taking place just blocks away. I kept teaching. I even brought the class to their scheduled art class. When we arrived at the art room, the class of older children was buzzing with a nervous energy, and the teacher had a look of shock on her face as she lowered the window shades. The fifth-floor room had a direct view of the towers, and the students were witnessing people jumping out of windows.

Ho is an early childhood administrator in New York City.

9/11 school essay

Katie Lootens, seen here c. 2001, was on the school bus when a classmate told her peers that something “bad” happened. (Courtesy of Katie Lootens)

Katie Lootens, a seventh grader at Northview Middle School in Indianapolis, was on the school bus just before 9 a.m. Eastern that day.

The last girl to get on told us something “bad” had happened but didn’t know exactly what. When we got to school, half of the students were worried about the attacks, and the other half were worried about a rumor that a kid had brought a gun on the bus. Once we got to homeroom, my teacher had the news on, and we just watched.

The second plane hit during first period, French. Most kids didn’t fully understand what was going on or the gravity of the situation, but we were worried because we had never seen our teachers this worried. Later in the day, my English language arts teacher had us journal our feelings and then share. By social studies that afternoon, I remember my teacher pulling out the map and showing us where Afghanistan was. I remember my math teacher trying to teach us math, but nobody was paying attention, and eventually, he gave up and put the news back on. In band and PE, we had the option to participate in the normal day if we wanted some normalcy, or we could sit out if we wanted.  

Lootens now teaches English learners in Washington, D.C.

9/11 school essay

Mike Brown was teaching sixth grade in Williamsburg, Virginia, and many of his students’ parents were members of the military. (Courtesy of Mike Brown)

Mike Brown, a sixth grade teacher at Berkeley Middle School in Williamsburg, Virginia, was reviewing the day’s agenda with the students in his homeroom when he heard a commotion outside his classroom.

Middle school teachers very quickly are able to decipher kids running in the hallway. This was not that. I heard an “oh my God,” at which point I walked quickly to look out into the hallway. One of my teacher teammates was approaching the room as I was opening the door. She had a startled look on her face and asked if I was watching TV. When I turned it on, we were immediately heartbroken for the people that were on the plane as well as those in the building that was just hit. But we still thought it was a tragic accident. That only lasted for a minute as the news camera focused on the burning building caught a glimpse of a second plane hitting the second tower. Immediately we knew our country was under attack, and we were sitting in the middle of a military town. A number of my students’ parents were living in the neighborhood solely because they were enlisted in the military. 

Brown is the director of new school development at New Schools for Alabama. He lives in Memphis.

9/11 school essay

A military helicopter flies in front of the Pentagon on September 14, 2001 in Arlington, Virginia at the impact site where a hijacked airliner crashed into the building. (Stephen J. Boitano / Getty Images)

Eric Nordstrom was a student at Battle Mountain High School in Edwards, Colorado. When the news first broke, Nordstrom’s English teacher, Mr. Loetscher, took the class down to the cafeteria, where there were TVs with cable.

Prior to the second plane hitting, it seemed like there was confusion over what was happening. The second strike made it clear that it was an attack, which made things more terrifying and confusing, especially to a high school student. 

Now, looking back, I mostly think about all of the terrible things that have emanated from that terrible day. Whether it’s the lives lost, the money squandered that we could have done actual good with, the many stupid policies that came out of the aftermath that do nothing to keep us safe, or how it caused so many people to abandon their moral compasses and embrace hate. I think about the anti-Islam hate that spiked overnight.

Nordstrom lives in Vail, Colorado.

Alex Tronolone, a junior at Curtis High School in Staten Island, was the photographer for his school’s yearbook and newspaper. After the first plane crashed into the north tower, he was called out of class to snap some pictures. As he made his way up to the roof, where the janitors were looking out at the towers, Tronolone was imagining a small passenger plane.

When I finally got to the roof, you could tell it was more than that. While I was up there, the first tower fell. At first, it looked like water was being used to put out the fires, but as the smoke spread and cleared, it became obvious that the tower fell. After that, I returned to class, incredulous. I remember looking at my watch to note the date because I knew it would be something that would be remembered. 

Tronolone is an educator from Staten Island.

Rashid Johnson taught fourth grade at Bruce-Monroe Elementary School in Washington, D.C. The principal there began evacuating the school after a third plane hit the Pentagon. (A fourth hijacked plane crashed into a Pennsylvania field soon after.)

I was paralyzed, and my students were terrified and asking me if we were going to die. It felt like an alien invasion.

Johnson is a senior director of school support in New York City.

9/11 school essay

Barbara Gottschalk continued to teach, as school leaders wanted students of Warren Consolidated Schools to find out from their parents. (Courtesy of Barbara Gottschalk)

Barbara Gottschalk was a teacher at Flynn Middle School in Michigan’s Warren Consolidated Schools district. As events unfolded that morning, school leaders told teachers to turn off their TVs and keep teaching.

The message was to continue on and not let the students know. At the end of the school day, the principal came on the intercom to announce after-school activities had been canceled. One of my students said, “I wonder why they’re canceling everything.” That’s how protected we’d managed to keep our students. Our principal wanted the students to learn about this from their family members. To this day, I admire how my principal handled this.

Gottschalk is retired and lives in North Carolina.

Gloria Turner,  a teacher at Southside Middle School in Florence, South Carolina, remembers the principal coming over the loudspeaker to say that we could not watch the news on TV or the computer.

We turned on the radio instead. I spent the day calming the fears of young teenagers while trying to control my own. All these years later, the unity of our nation is what comes to mind. We had prayer services in the park, and people from all walks of life attended. This is unusual in our town. We held hands and prayed and hugged. American flags were everywhere.

Turner teaches media arts and theatre in Florence, South Carolina.

9/11 school essay

Alyson Starks (center) watched the news unfold in her fifth grade classroom at Mt. Juliet Elementary School. She is seen here with classmates at their fifth grade graduation. (Courtesy of Alyson Starks)

Alyson Starks was in her fifth grade math class at Mt. Juliet Elementary School in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, when the science teacher, Ms. Jeffries, rushed into the room without knocking.

Ms. Jeffries told Mrs. Hahn something behind the piece of paper as if to tell her a secret. Mrs. Hahn rolled in the TV — those big ones, strapped to a rolling cart with the VHS that never worked — and turned on the news. Later that day, I remember getting off the bus and my parents being home. They were never home when my brother and I got home from school. The TV was on, and I’ll remember my mom’s face as she turned to notice us walk in for the rest of my life.

Starks is a senior graphic designer in Nashville.

9/11 school essay

Crowds swarm over the Manhattan Bridge to leave Manhattan the morning of the 9/11 attack. (Andrew Lichtenstein / Corbis via Getty Images)

Suzanne Werner was an educator at P.S. 124, which backs up to the Manhattan Bridge. That morning she was asked to cover for a fifth grade teacher whose husband worked at the World Trade Center.

At first, there was a steady stream of sirens, then silence and a steady stream of people covered in ash walking [toward Brooklyn]. By noon most of the children had been picked up, and the teachers were sent home. I stayed with a small group and the principal till 4 or 4:30 p.m., when the last child was collected. By then, the F train was running, and I was able to get back home to Brooklyn. The train was packed and completely silent. 

It was so hard to get back to teaching that fall. There were so many distractions. Chinatown was impacted in so many ways. Businesses closed. There was no phone service for many, many months. The stench of the cloud hung over the neighborhood. The number of boxes of letters and boxes of teddy bears from school kids all over the country was overwhelming.

Werner is retired and lives in New York City.

9/11 school essay

Latasha Fields-Frisco was the dean of students at Bronx School for Law, and her daughter had just started kindergarten before 9/11. (Courtesy of Latasha Fields-Frisco)

Latasha Fields-Frisco, who on 9/11 was the dean of students at Bronx School for Law, Government & Justice. Her own daughter had just started kindergarten.

It was a regular morning that ended with a bomb threat to our school. We evacuated and ensured all of our students were safe. I lived in Harlem at the time and was unable to drive home. The bridges were closed off. I walked from the Bronx to 122nd Street in Harlem. It seemed like the longest walk ever. I was happy to reach home safely to see my family and just broke down in tears.

Fields-Frisco is an assistant principal in the Bronx.

Sonia Algarin was a school counselor at Health Opportunities High School in the Bronx when the NYPD ordered an evacuation of the school. The city had shut down mass transit temporarily.

How could we dismiss students who now had to walk home during a crisis situation? When would their parents get home if they had to walk from their jobs? Was it safer to keep them at the school? Our school was across the street from a highway, the Major Deegan. The police said we needed to seek shelter at Hostos Community College three blocks away. We had to walk all 500 students through the busy streets. Some were scared there could be another bombing or another airplane crashing into Yankee Stadium 10 blocks away. 

Algarin is a school counselor in the Bronx.

9/11 school essay

Smoke billows toward the harbor in Lower Manhattan after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. (Jason Nevader / WireImage via Getty Images)

Sunny Asra, a fifth grader at P.S. 220 Edward Mandel School in Queens, thinks about the repercussions of 9/11 for America’s South Asian community.

[On Sept. 13], schools had a two-hour delayed opening. Still having not processed the events, it started to hit us when the kids met each other and our parents hugged one another, and we kind of did the same. In the following weeks, major hate was thrown at the South Asian community due to a lack of knowledge about religion and race. Being that I had a turban, I was even more fearful. Many innocent South Asians were killed, stabbed, and beaten.

Asra is an operations manager for the New York City Department of Education. He lives on Long Island.

9/11 school essay

Elvis Santana, seen here c. 2000, was at P.S. 66 in the Bronx during the attack, and classmates worried about the safety of their parents. (Courtesy of Elvis Santana)

Elvis Santana, a student at P.S. 66 in the Bronx, remembers listening to the radio that morning from under his desk at school. Many of his classmates wondered aloud if their parents were OK and tried to call them.

It was and still is the most devastating storyline of my life. One moment you’re in class learning, and the next, you’re thinking about death, violence, religion, war, and safety all at once. As a Bronx native, by the age of 8, you have already previewed violence and discrimination. The incident of 9/11 broadened that violence and triggered something we weren’t prepared to deal with. To anyone born after 2001, it  was a testament to how America handled hatred and violence. In the end, we failed in achieving our objective, and today we see that in places like Afghanistan.

Santana is an education outreach director in the Bronx.

Dale Chu, a third grade teacher in East Palo Alto, California, heard about the terror attack from a local Spanish-language radio station on his drive to work. He had no idea of the scale of the disaster until he walked into the teachers lounge and saw the images on TV.

For the most part, we decided not to address it with our students at the time because of their age and because the feelings were all so visceral. I also vividly remember my brother in Los Angeles calling me that morning, and me stepping out of my classroom to take it. He told me that America was now at war. 

9/11 is one of those rare life-defining moments. I can’t believe it’s been 20 years. The recent image of the Afghan boy falling from the U.S. Air Force jet over Kabul brought back for me — in stark relief —  this picture of a falling man from the World Trade Center . Most of all, I remember how I felt in the following weeks. The sense of national pride and unity, like when George W. Bush threw out the first pitch at the World Series game in New York City. Given today’s raging culture wars and swirling currents of polarization, we could use a little bit of that now.

Chu is an education consultant in Parker, Colorado.

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September 11, 2001

New York City, New York, U.S.

The tragic events of September 11, 2001, commonly known as the 9/11 attacks, involved a series of coordinated hijackings and deliberate suicide attacks carried out by 19 militants affiliated with the extremist Islamic group al-Qaeda. These attacks, which remain the deadliest acts of terrorism on American soil, targeted several locations in the United States. The hijackers were successful in crashing two planes into the iconic North and South Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, causing their eventual collapse. Another plane struck the Pentagon, the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, located in Arlington, Virginia. The fourth plane, intended for a federal government building in Washington, D.C., was heroically thwarted by passengers who revolted, resulting in its crash in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. These heinous acts had a profound impact on global security, reshaping the course of international relations and forever altering the lives of countless individuals affected by the tragedy.

The 9/11 attacks were a culmination of various historical factors and events that set the stage for this tragic event. The primary cause behind the attacks can be traced to the rise of Islamic extremism, particularly the extremist group al-Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden. It emerged as a response to perceived injustices faced by Muslims, including the presence of American military forces in the Middle East and U.S. foreign policies in the region. The prerequisites leading to the attacks involved a combination of factors, such as ideological radicalization, recruitment efforts, and meticulous planning by the terrorists. These efforts aimed to exploit existing vulnerabilities within the aviation security system and target symbolic landmarks in the United States. Additionally, geopolitical conflicts, such as the Soviet-Afghan War and the Gulf War, played a role in shaping the ideological landscape and providing a breeding ground for extremist ideologies. The attacks were also facilitated by intelligence failures and a lack of coordination between various agencies responsible for counterterrorism efforts.

The effects of the 9/11 attacks were far-reaching and had a profound impact on various aspects of society. Primarily, the attacks resulted in the loss of thousands of innocent lives and caused immense physical destruction, particularly with the collapse of the World Trade Center towers in New York City and the damage to the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. The attacks had significant socio-political consequences. They led to a heightened sense of fear and insecurity within the United States and around the world. The incident prompted the implementation of stricter security measures, including enhanced airport screenings and increased surveillance efforts, to prevent future terrorist acts. Moreover, the attacks influenced U.S. foreign policy, leading to military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. The attacks also had economic repercussions. The destruction of the World Trade Center had a severe impact on global financial markets and the economy, leading to a decline in stock markets and increased job losses. Additionally, the attacks had a lasting psychological impact, causing trauma and grief among survivors, families of the victims, and communities affected by the events.

The 9/11 attacks have had a significant impact on media and literature, with numerous works exploring the events, their aftermath, and their implications. Various forms of media, including films, documentaries, books, and poems, have depicted the 9/11 attacks and their consequences. One notable example is the film "United 93" (2006), directed by Paul Greengrass. The movie reconstructs the events aboard United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania after passengers attempted to regain control from the hijackers. The film offers a gripping and emotional portrayal of the heroic actions taken by the passengers in the face of tragedy. Another prominent work is "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" (2005), a novel by Jonathan Safran Foer. The book follows a young boy named Oskar Schell, who lost his father in the World Trade Center collapse. Through Oskar's perspective, the novel explores themes of grief, trauma, and the search for meaning in the aftermath of the attacks.

The 9/11 attacks had a profound impact on public opinion, eliciting a range of responses and shaping perceptions worldwide. In the immediate aftermath, people expressed feelings of anger towards the perpetrators and a desire for justice to be served. The attacks also sparked debates and discussions on various topics, including national security, terrorism, and foreign policy. Public opinion regarding the government's response to the attacks and the subsequent military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq varied, with some supporting the actions taken and others expressing concerns about civil liberties and the potential escalation of conflicts. Furthermore, the 9/11 attacks prompted increased awareness and scrutiny of issues related to religious tolerance, Islamophobia, and the treatment of Muslim communities. Public discourse on these topics became more prominent, reflecting a heightened focus on understanding and combating prejudice.

1. The collapse of the Twin Towers following the 9/11 attacks remains a striking fact. The South Tower (WTC 2) collapsed only 56 minutes after being hit by United Airlines Flight 175, while the North Tower (WTC 1) collapsed 102 minutes after being struck by American Airlines Flight 11. These unprecedented structural failures shocked the world and demonstrated the devastating impact of the attacks. 2. The 9/11 attacks resulted in a tragic loss of life. In total, 2,977 people from over 90 countries lost their lives in the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and aboard United Airlines Flight 93. Among the casualties were not only office workers and first responders but also individuals from diverse backgrounds, including tourists, airline passengers, and individuals attending business meetings. 3. Economic consequences: The attacks had a profound impact on the economy, not only in terms of immediate destruction but also long-term effects. It is estimated that the attacks caused a loss of $123 billion in economic output during the first two to four weeks. Additionally, sectors such as tourism, aviation, and finance experienced significant disruptions and faced substantial financial losses, leading to a ripple effect on employment and global markets.

The topic of the 9/11 attacks holds significant importance as it marks a pivotal moment in contemporary history that changed the global landscape in numerous ways. Understanding and exploring this event through an essay allows for a comprehensive examination of its profound impact on society, politics, security, and international relations. Firstly, the 9/11 attacks shattered the sense of security and invulnerability that many nations had previously enjoyed. It exposed vulnerabilities in security systems, leading to significant changes in counterterrorism measures and policies worldwide. Secondly, the attacks prompted a reevaluation of international relations and the United States' role in global affairs. It fueled the war on terror, leading to military interventions, the establishment of new alliances, and shifts in foreign policies. Furthermore, the 9/11 attacks raised important questions about religious extremism, ideological motivations, and the delicate balance between security and civil liberties. Examining these aspects in an essay fosters critical thinking and provides an opportunity to delve into the complexities surrounding terrorism and its aftermath.

1. National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (2004). The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. W. W. Norton & Company. 2. Summers, A., & Swan, R. (2011). The Eleventh Day: The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama bin Laden. Ballantine Books. 3. Jenkins, B. M. (2006). The 9/11 Wars. Hill and Wang. 4. Smith, M. L. (2011). Why War? The Cultural Logic of Iraq, the Gulf War, and Suez. University of Chicago Press. 5. Bowden, M. (2006). Guests of the Ayatollah: The Iran Hostage Crisis: The First Battle in America's War with Militant Islam. Grove Press. 6. Wright, L. (2006). The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. Vintage. 7. Bamford, J. (2008). The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America. Anchor Books. 8. Thompson, W., & Thompson, S. (2011). The Disappearance of the Social in American Social Psychology. Cambridge University Press. 9. Boyle, M. (2007). Media Mythmakers: How Journalists, Activists, and Advertisers Mislead Us. Potomac Books. 10. Zelikow, P., & Shenon, P. (2021). The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions. Interlink Publishing Group.

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9/11 school essay

9/11 Is History Now. Here’s How American Kids Are Learning About It in Class

9/11 school essay

O n the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Lauren Hetrick was a 16-year-old sophomore at Hershey High School in Hershey, Pa. Her French class was just about to start when a strange announcement came over the P.A. system: “Attention, teachers: The computer tech is in the building.”

The teacher, hearing those words, logged onto her computer. Then she started to cry. She turned on the TV, and there was the North Tower at the World Trade Center, in flames. The class watched as a second plane hit the South Tower. Then the students watched the collapse of the tallest buildings in New York City.

Nearly two decades later, Hetrick has cause to see her teacher’s behavior that morning through a slightly different lens: She became a high school teacher herself, so helping students understand the events of 9/11 is part of her job too. This generation of students were almost all born after that defining 21st century moment, so while the attack may seem like yesterday to those old enough to remember it, to Hetrick’s students, it’s history.

Many teachers who remember what it was like to have been in school at that time use the memory to help their students connect to the topic. Hetrick, who chairs her school’s Social Studies department in Newville, Pa., shows her students the same Today show episode she watched that day. She also encourages them to listen to the stories of victims’ families and first responders recorded by StoryCorps, in hopes the personal recollections will make students more engaged “by seeing I’m truly invested in what we’re doing, seeing how much I’m caring about this, how emotional I get.”

When she first started teaching U.S. History in 2008, that lesson felt like déjà vu.

“I was teaching sophomores about my experience as a sophomore, and I would go home after that lesson and just break down,” she recalls. “I was having a hard time detaching. [Teachers] want to form a connection, but we also need to stay professional as historians and have that little bit of detachment. It’s definitely not easy to do.”

9/11 school essay

What Must Be Learned

It’s not surprising that teaching 9/11 as history is a delicate task. In addition to the emotional burden that falls on teachers who remember that day, the subject matter is sensitive and the images and documents that might be used as primary sources are disturbing. The story is also very much still being written, as the effects of 9/11 on American society continue to evolve.

There is also no national guideline that states are required to follow in terms of teaching the topic, so lessons will vary depending on the teacher or school district. In New York, for example, schools will observe a moment of silence on Wednesday, after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law on Monday requiring observation of the anniversary. A 2017 analysis of state high-school social-studies academic standards in the 50 states and the District of Columbia noted that 26 specifically mentioned the 9/11 attacks, nine mentioned terrorism or the war on terror, and 16 didn’t mention 9/11 or terrorism-related examples at all.

That variation is part of the reason why Jeremy Stoddard, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education, set out to analyze how teachers are talking about 9/11 in classrooms nationwide.

A new study released this month, on which Stoddard is the lead author, polled 1,047 U.S. middle- and high-school teachers and revealed that the most popular method of teaching about 9/11 and the War on Terror was showing a documentary or “similar video.” The next most cited method was discussing related current events. The third most mentioned approach was sharing personal stories, the way Hetrick does; Stoddard says younger teachers in particular tend to aim to get kids “to feel like they felt that day, to understand the shock and horror people felt that day.”

The survey built on his prior research looking at textbooks and classroom resources developed to teach about the event in the first few years after 2001. He and UW-Madison colleague Diana Hess studied nine of the bestselling high school U.S History, World History, Government and Law textbooks published in 2004 and 2006, and then did side-by-side comparisons between three of them and editions published in 2009 and 2010, noting how descriptions of the attacks evolved.

For example, four of the nine earlier textbooks mentioned the war in Iraq as part of the aftermath of 9/11, but when Stoddard and Hess were doing research in 2005, only one, McDougal Littell’s The Americans (2005), got into how evidence for the weapons of mass destruction claims had not yet been found. One 2005 textbook, Prentice Hall’s Magruder’s American Government, said that when Congress authorized President George W. Bush to take whatever measures were “necessary and appropriate” to neutralize the threat of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in the wake of 9/11, “it was widely believed that the regime had amassed huge stores of chemical and biological weapons”; the 2010 edition deleted the sentence about weapons of mass destruction. In some textbooks, the descriptions of the attacks got shorter as time went on. For example, that 2005 edition of The Americans said about 3,000 people were killed in the attacks, and then specified how many were passengers on the planes, people who worked at or were visiting the World Trade Center, and how many were first responders. The 2010 version cut out the breakdown of the casualties.

“A lot of the main themes that we saw way back in 2003 — in terms of, it’s a day of remembrance, a focus on the first responders and the heroes of the day and the actions they took, the world coming together in response to this horrible terrorist attack — a lot of those themes are still very much the way it’s being taught,” says Stoddard. “Middle schools are focusing a little bit more on first responders and heroes of the day. High school is where you would probably see more of an emphasis on the causes, the events leading up to it and maybe more on the response. High – school teachers did talk more about the Patriot Act and surveillance and some of those national-security-versus-civil-liberties types of issues.”

9/11 school essay

Read more: The TIME for Kids Guide to Talking About Tough Topics

Beyond the Textbooks

But, in keeping with some larger pedagogical trends in recent years, textbooks are not the go-to resource for learning about 9/11 in 2019.

Part of the reason is that, even if publishers update textbooks, schools may not have the budget to buy the latest edition; Kayla Turner, a high school social studies teacher in Raleigh, N.C., says some of the textbooks used in her classes haven’t been updated since 2001. Like Hetrick, Turner relies on personal experience to connect her students to the material. “I get teary-eyed with my students,” she says, especially when she explains that her father was a corrections officer who got called in to do crowd control at Ground Zero, and her cousin’s husband was a first responder.

So, in Stoddard’s new survey of secondary-school teachers, 71% said they use websites, 33% said they use specific curricula produced by non-profit and educational organizations and 23% said they use textbooks to explain 9/11 — and about 20% of participants said they didn’t have the curriculum or materials they needed to discuss 9/11 and the War on Terror.

Some non-profits and educational organizations offer free online resources that help fill that void, especially for the youngest students. Teachers to whom TIME spoke mentioned the 9/11 Memorial Museum’s interactive timeline ; the museum also offers a range of educational resources, all the way down to kindergarten-appropriate lesson plans that talk about the search-and-rescue dogs and emergency preparedness. Other resources include sites like Teaching Tolerance, which produces online guidelines for educators on debunking negative stereotypes about Muslims.

But flexible curricula can also introduce a different kind of obstacle for teachers. For example, Turner says she’s gotten pushback from parents for making a point to tell her students that the Islamist extremists who hijacked the planes on 9/11 don’t represent the views of all Muslims, and she’s had students who have come to the subject believing conspiracy theories that 9/11 didn’t really happen or was orchestrated by the government. Stoddard says her experience is not uncommon, as other teachers have told him they are increasingly having to field questions from students about conspiracy theories.

One aspect of the curriculum that has drawn particular debate is the question of whether pictures from 9/11 are too disturbing to use in classrooms. But, while textbook publishers and writers consider the appropriateness of showing them, teachers say photo and video are making 9/11 resonate with students — particularly because, as difficult as it may be for older Americans to imagine, students may not feel any particular sense of pathos or fascination about the day.

During a recent Twitter chat for social studies teachers on discussing 9/11, some teachers said they rely on more visceral images and records, but that they also remind students that the current government agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security and thorough airport security check-in processes are products of 9/11. Others point out ways students can help in a future crisis.

#sschat A2) I look to teach about the helpers. Who helped that day. It allows to teach about the content and then look to those who help. It then develops into teaching what we can do in everyday life. — Drew Monkemeyer (@DrewMonkemeyer) September 2, 2019
I've played the air traffic controller radio networks as they figured out the problem in real time. Shows incredible real time team work and crisis management that is a great conversation with students #sschat — Jim Janes (@thisMrJanes) September 2, 2019

“You have an audience that’s easily bored,” says Don Ritchie, co-author of the 2018 edition of McGraw-Hill’s United States History & Geography . “When I talk to students, they complain they get bored with history. They want events with emotion and drama. Injecting some drama into the story is the best way to do that.”

‘A Long Time Ago’

But what do kids themselves say they’re learning about 9/11?

At the 9/11 Memorial on the weekend before this year’s anniversary, kids and parents alike told TIME that school wasn’t where they had learned most of what they knew about the attacks.

Liam Kerr Finger, a 10-year-old fifth grader visiting New York City with his family from Burlington, N.C., said he’d seen the news footage from 9/11 last year, in a documentary playing on TV at home. But his twin sister, Eleanor Ford Kerr Finger, hadn’t seen footage of the attacks before going to the museum, and was trying to get her head around the significance of the events. While she found it easier to draw a line between the causes and effects of other historical events she’d learned about — the Civil War and the end of slavery, the Revolutionary War and American independence — it wasn’t immediately clear how 9/11 had changed the world. One of her parents, Shellie Kerr, said she had been trying to explain to her kids that in fact they saw the effects of 9/11 in their everyday lives all the time, right down to the security line they had to wait on to enter the museum that day.

Joshua Petit-Day, 10, from Linden, N.J., said he had been learning about the attacks since first grade. His parents took him to the museum around the anniversary, and he said he learns more new details about 9/11 every September. To him, the events of that day are a reminder of how dangerous the world is. “Everyone should know what it means and why it happened because you never know if something like that is going to happen again,” he said.

“It’s not really talked about a lot,” said Che Rose, 14, a 10th grader from Jersey City, N.J., who said he got the feeling that teachers were reluctant to get into it. His sister, Jordana, 12, a seventh grader, had recently read a novel based on the attacks, Towers Falling. “At home we get more of the facts,” she said, pointing out that her father, who was with them, worked in midtown on 9/11. And, thinking about this moment that shaped the world into which she was born, she marveled at the fact that the attacks weren’t actually such faraway history after all.

“Feels like it was a long time ago,” she said. “Only 18 years ago? Feels further than that.”

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What schools teach about 9/11 and the war on terror

9/11 school essay

Professor of Curriculum & Instruction, University of Wisconsin-Madison

9/11 school essay

Professor of Curriculum & Instruction and Dean of the School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Disclosure statement

Jeremy Stoddard receives funding from the September 11th Education Trust, William & Mary, and the University of Wisconsin - Madison for the research referenced in this article.

Diana Hess does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

University of Wisconsin–Madison provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

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The phrase “ Never Forget ” is often associated with the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But what does this phrase mean for U.S. students who are too young to remember? What are they being asked to never forget?

As education researchers in curriculum and instruction , we have studied since 2002 how the events of 9/11 and the global war on terror are integrated into secondary level U.S. classrooms and curricula. What we have found is a relatively consistent narrative that focuses on 9/11 as an unprecedented and shocking attack, the heroism of the firefighters and other first responders and a global community that stood behind the U.S. in its pursuit of terrorists.

This narrative is in official curricula , such as textbooks and state standards, as well as in many of the most popular materials teachers report using, such as documentary films .

While honoring the victims and helping a new generation understand the significance of these events are important, we believe there are inherent risks in teaching a simple nationalistic narrative of heroism and evil.

Annual commemoration

In our survey of 1,047 U.S. secondary teachers conducted in late 2018, we found that the majority of the history teachers tend to teach about 9/11 primarily on the date of the anniversary each year.

Based on the topics being taught, teaching materials and their descriptions of lessons, the instruction emphasizes commemoration of the attacks and victims. Teachers also attempt to help students who were not alive on 9/11 to understand the experience of those who witnessed the events on TV that day. They report sharing their own recollections, showing news or documentary footage of the attacks, and focusing on the details of the day and events that followed.

The surveyed teachers view 9/11 as significant – and believe that teaching it honors the goal to never forget. However, they described the challenge of making time for discussing these events when the standards for their class do not necessarily include them, or include 9/11-related topics only at the end of the school year. As a result, the lessons are often limited to one class session on or near the anniversary. It is also taught out of historical context given that the anniversary arrives at the beginning of the school year and most U.S. history courses start in either the 1400s or the post-U.S. Civil War era.

Risks of a simple narrative

Teaching 9/11 as a memorializing event on the anniversary also generally avoids deeper inquiry into the historic U.S. role in the Middle East and Afghanistan. This includes, for example, arming mujahedeen fighters against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s and aiding Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in the war against Iran also in the ‘80s.

A more in-depth approach, on the other hand, could explore how U.S. actions contributed to the formation of al-Qaida , which bombed the World Trade Center in 1993 and later carried out attacks on U.S. embassies in East Africa as well as on the USS Cole , a Navy ship fueling in Yemen, in the years leading up to 9/11.

Simplistic narratives do not help students reflect on the many controversial decisions made by the U.S. and their allies after 9/11, such as using embellished evidence to justify the invasion of Iraq in 2003 .

And they potentially reinforce political rhetoric that paints Muslims as potential terrorists and ignore the xenophobic attacks against Muslim Americans after the 9/11 attacks.

Teenager adjusts her hijab in mirror

Generational differences among teachers

Many teachers, however, do engage students in the complexities of these events. Middle school teachers report including 9/11 as part of their discussion of Islam in a world religions unit; world history teachers describe placing it in the context of the modern Middle East.

For U.S. history courses organized chronologically and using widely available textbooks, the move to standardized curricula and testing in many U.S. states can make it difficult to incorporate current events in meaningful ways. Teachers tell us they feel there is no room or time to deviate. Many end their course in the 1980s or rush through final decades superficially. Some get creative and tie 9/11 to other terror attacks like the 1886 bombing of a labor protest in Haymarket Square in Chicago.

Younger teachers in particular reported different goals for their students that go beyond commemoration or a focus on the shocking nature of the events of the day. They want young people to recognize how the events and policies that followed 9/11 impacted daily life in ways they might not realize. This reflects their own experience, which was less a vivid memory of the day of the attacks but perhaps constant reminders of the color-coded terrorism threat levels issued by the Department of Homeland Security from 2002 to 2011. They want students to understand the recent evacuation of U.S. personnel from Afghanistan in relation to both 9/11 and the U.S. role in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Or to examine provisions of the USA Patriot Act of 2001, which allowed greater surveillance of U.S. citizens.

Afghan nationals disembark from a US air force aircraft after an evacuation flight from Kabul

Learning from 9/11

If the goal of teaching history is to develop citizens who use knowledge of the past to understand the present and inform future decisions, educators need to help students learn from 9/11 and the war on terror, and not just about them. This means going beyond the facts of the day and the collective memory aspects to also engage in inquiry into why they happened and how the U.S. and other nations reacted.

Teachers can use news footage from that day to commemorate and as a starting point for student inquiry. Students could question why Osama bin Laden’s image was presented within an hour and a half of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center, and how U.S. experts knew he was hiding in Afghanistan. They can explore the President’s Daily Brief from Aug. 6, 2001 , which highlighted the threat of bin Laden planning an attack on the U.S., or the CIA memo from the late 1980s that outlined the dangers of abandoning the mujahedeen.

Many updated resources are available for teachers to draw from for lessons on 9/11. These resources include the perspectives of veterans, Afghan and Iraqi interpreters and refugees, Muslim and Sikh Americans and others not often included.

To “Never Forget” for students today may start with teaching them about aspects of 9/11 that seem to have been overlooked, erased or forgotten.

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Two Decades Later, the Enduring Legacy of 9/11

Table of contents.

Americans watched in horror as the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, left nearly 3,000 people dead in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Nearly 20 years later, they watched in sorrow as the nation’s military mission in Afghanistan – which began less than a month after 9/11 – came to a bloody and chaotic conclusion.

Chart shows 9/11 a powerful memory for Americans – but only for adults old enough to remember

The enduring power of the Sept. 11 attacks is clear: An overwhelming share of Americans who are old enough to recall the day remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news. Yet an ever-growing number of Americans have no personal memory of that day, either because they were too young or not yet born.

A review of U.S. public opinion in the two decades since 9/11 reveals how a badly shaken nation came together, briefly, in a spirit of sadness and patriotism; how the public initially rallied behind the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, though support waned over time; and how Americans viewed the threat of terrorism at home and the steps the government took to combat it.

As the country comes to grips with the tumultuous exit of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan, the departure has raised long-term questions about U.S. foreign policy and America’s place in the world. Yet the public’s initial judgments on that mission are clear: A majority endorses the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, even as it criticizes the Biden administration’s handling of the situation. And after a war that cost thousands of lives – including more than 2,000 American service members – and trillions of dollars in military spending, a new Pew Research Center survey finds that 69% of U.S. adults say the United States has mostly failed to achieve its goals in Afghanistan.

This examination of how the United States changed in the two decades following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks is based on an analysis of past public opinion survey data from Pew Research Center, news reports and other sources.

Current data is from a Pew Research Center survey of 10,348 U.S. adults conducted Aug. 23-29, 2021. Most of the interviewing was conducted before the Aug. 26 suicide bombing at Kabul airport, and all of it was conducted before the completion of the evacuation. Everyone who took part is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the  ATP’s methodology .

Here are the questions used  for the report, along with responses, and  its methodology .

A devastating emotional toll, a lasting historical legacy

Shock, sadness, fear, anger: The 9/11 attacks inflicted a devastating emotional toll on Americans. But as horrible as the events of that day were, a 63% majority of Americans said they couldn’t stop watching news coverage of the attacks.

Chart shows days after 9/11, nearly all Americans said they felt sad; most felt depressed

Our first survey following the attacks went into the field just days after 9/11, from Sept. 13-17, 2001. A sizable majority of adults (71%) said they felt depressed, nearly half (49%) had difficulty concentrating and a third said they had trouble sleeping.

It was an era in which television was still the public’s dominant news source – 90% said they got most of their news about the attacks from television, compared with just 5% who got news online – and the televised images of death and destruction had a powerful impact. Around nine-in-ten Americans (92%) agreed with the statement, “I feel sad when watching TV coverage of the terrorist attacks.” A sizable majority (77%) also found it frightening to watch – but most did so anyway.

Americans were enraged by the attacks, too. Three weeks after 9/11 , even as the psychological stress began to ease somewhat, 87% said they felt angry about the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

Fear was widespread, not just in the days immediately after the attacks, but throughout the fall of 2001. Most Americans said they were very (28%) or somewhat (45%) worried about another attack . When asked a year later to describe how their lives changed in a major way, about half of adults said they felt more afraid, more careful, more distrustful or more vulnerable as a result of the attacks.

9/11 school essay

Even after the immediate shock of 9/11 had subsided, concerns over terrorism remained at higher levels in major cities – especially New York and Washington – than in small towns and rural areas. The personal impact of the attacks also was felt more keenly in the cities directly targeted: Nearly a year after 9/11, about six-in-ten adults in the New York (61%) and Washington (63%) areas said the attacks had changed their lives at least a little, compared with 49% nationwide. This sentiment was shared by residents of other large cities. A quarter of people who lived in large cities nationwide said their lives had changed in a major way – twice the rate found in small towns and rural areas.

The impacts of the Sept. 11 attacks were deeply felt and slow to dissipate. By the following August, half of U.S. adults said the country “had changed in a major way” – a number that actually increased , to 61%, 10 years after the event .

A year after the attacks, in an open-ended question, most Americans – 80% – cited 9/11 as the most important event that had occurred in the country during the previous year. Strikingly, a larger share also volunteered it as the most important thing that happened to them personally in the prior year (38%) than mentioned other typical life events, such as births or deaths. Again, the personal impact was much greater in New York and Washington, where 51% and 44%, respectively, pointed to the attacks as the most significant personal event over the prior year.

Chart shows in 2016 – 15 years after 9/11 – the attacks continued to be seen as one of the public’s top historical events

Just as memories of 9/11 are firmly embedded in the minds of most Americans old enough to recall the attacks, their historical importance far surpasses other events in people’s lifetimes. In a survey conducted by Pew Research Center in association with A+E Networks’ HISTORY in 2016 – 15 years after 9/11 – 76% of adults named the Sept. 11 attacks as one of the 10 historical events of their lifetime that had the greatest impact on the country. The election of Barack Obama as the first Black president was a distant second, at 40%.

The importance of 9/11 transcended age, gender, geographic and even political differences. The 2016 study noted that while partisans agreed on little else that election cycle, more than seven-in-ten Republicans and Democrats named the attacks as one of their top 10 historic events.

9/11 school essay

9/11 transformed U.S. public opinion, but many of its impacts were short-lived

It is difficult to think of an event that so profoundly transformed U.S. public opinion across so many dimensions as the 9/11 attacks. While Americans had a shared sense of anguish after Sept. 11, the months that followed also were marked by rare spirit of public unity.

Chart shows trust in government spiked following Sept. 11 terror attack

Patriotic sentiment surged in the aftermath of 9/11. After the U.S. and its allies launched airstrikes against Taliban and al-Qaida forces in early October 2001, 79% of adults said they had displayed an American flag. A year later, a 62% majority said they had often felt patriotic as a result of the 9/11 attacks.

Moreover, the public largely set aside political differences and rallied in support of the nation’s major institutions, as well as its political leadership. In October 2001, 60% of adults expressed trust in the federal government – a level not reached in the previous three decades, nor approached in the two decades since then.

George W. Bush, who had become president nine months earlier after a fiercely contested election, saw his job approval rise 35 percentage points in the space of three weeks. In late September 2001, 86% of adults – including nearly all Republicans (96%) and a sizable majority of Democrats (78%) – approved of the way Bush was handling his job as president.

Americans also turned to religion and faith in large numbers. In the days and weeks after 9/11, most Americans said they were praying more often. In November 2001, 78% said religion’s influence in American life was increasing, more than double the share who said that eight months earlier and – like public trust in the federal government – the highest level in four decades .

Public esteem rose even for some institutions that usually are not that popular with Americans. For example, in November 2001, news organizations received record-high ratings for professionalism. Around seven-in-ten adults (69%) said they “stand up for America,” while 60% said they protected democracy.

Yet in many ways, the “9/11 effect” on public opinion was short-lived. Public trust in government, as well as confidence in other institutions, declined throughout the 2000s. By 2005, following another major national tragedy – the government’s mishandling of the relief effort for victims of Hurricane Katrina – just 31% said they trusted the federal government, half the share who said so in the months after 9/11. Trust has remained relatively low for the past two decades: In April of this year, only 24% said they trusted the government just about always or most of the time.

Bush’s approval ratings, meanwhile, never again reached the lofty heights they did shortly after 9/11. By the end of his presidency, in December 2008, just 24% approved of his job performance.

9/11 school essay

U.S. military response: Afghanistan and Iraq

With the U.S. now formally out of Afghanistan – and with the Taliban firmly in control of the country – most Americans (69%) say the U.S. failed in achieving its goals in Afghanistan.

Chart shows broad initial support for U.S. military action against 9/11 terrorists, even if it entailed thousands of U.S. casualties

But 20 years ago, in the days and weeks following 9/11, Americans overwhelmingly supported military action against those responsible for the attacks. In mid-September 2001, 77% favored U.S. military action, including the deployment of ground forces, “to retaliate against whoever is responsible for the terrorist attacks, even if that means U.S. armed forces might suffer thousands of casualties.”

Many Americans were impatient for the Bush administration to give the go-ahead for military action. In a late September 2001 survey, nearly half the public (49%) said their larger concern was that the Bush administration would not strike quickly enough against the terrorists; just 34% said they worried the administration would move too quickly.

Even in the early stages of the U.S. military response, few adults expected a military operation to produce quick results: 69% said it would take months or years to dismantle terrorist networks, including 38% who said it would take years and 31% who said it would take several months. Just 18% said it would take days or weeks.

The public’s support for military intervention was evident in other ways as well. Throughout the fall of 2001, more Americans said the best way to prevent future terrorism was to take military action abroad rather than build up defenses at home. In early October 2001, 45% prioritized military action to destroy terrorist networks around the world, while 36% said the priority should be to build terrorism defenses at home.

9/11 school essay

Initially, the public was confident that the U.S. military effort to destroy terrorist networks would succeed. A sizable majority (76%) was confident in the success of this mission, with 39% saying they were very confident.

Support for the war in Afghanistan continued at a high level for several years to come. In a survey conducted in early 2002, a few months after the start of the war, 83% of Americans said they approved of the U.S.-led military campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan. In 2006, several years after the United States began combat operations in Afghanistan, 69% of adults said the U.S. made the right decision in using military force in Afghanistan. Only two-in-ten said it was the wrong decision.

Chart shows public support for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan increased after Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011

But as the conflict dragged on, first through Bush’s presidency and then through Obama’s administration, support wavered and a growing share of Americans favored the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. In June 2009, during Obama’s first year in office, 38% of Americans said U.S. troops should be removed from Afghanistan as soon as possible. The share favoring a speedy troop withdrawal increased over the next few years. A turning point came in May 2011, when U.S. Navy SEALs launched a risky operation against Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan and killed the al-Qaida leader.

The public reacted to bin Laden’s death with more of a sense of relief than jubilation . A month later, for the first time , a majority of Americans (56%) said that U.S. forces should be brought home as soon as possible, while 39% favored U.S. forces in the country until the situation had stabilized.

Over the next decade, U.S. forces in Afghanistan were gradually drawn down, in fits and starts, over the administrations of three presidents – Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Meanwhile, public support for the decision to use force in Afghanistan, which had been widespread at the start of the conflict, declined . Today, after the tumultuous exit of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, a slim majority of adults (54%) say the decision to withdraw troops from the country was the right decision; 42% say it was the wrong decision. 

There was a similar trajectory in public attitudes toward a much more expansive conflict that was part of what Bush termed the “war on terror”: the U.S. war in Iraq. Throughout the contentious, yearlong debate before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Americans widely supported the use of military force to end Saddam Hussein’s rule in Iraq.

Importantly, most Americans thought – erroneously, as it turned out – there was a direct connection between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks. In October 2002, 66% said that Saddam helped the terrorists involved in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

In April 2003, during the first month of the Iraq War, 71% said the U.S. made the right decision to go to war in Iraq. On the 15th anniversary of the war in 2018, just 43% said it was the right decision. As with the case with U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, more Americans said that the U.S. had failed (53%) than succeeded (39%) in achieving its goals in Iraq.

9/11 school essay

The ‘new normal’: The threat of terrorism after 9/11

There have been no terrorist attacks on the scale of 9/11 in two decades, but from the public’s perspective, the threat has never fully gone away. Defending the country from future terrorist attacks has been at or near the top of Pew Research Center’s annual survey on policy priorities since 2002.

Chart shows terrorism has consistently ranked high on Americans’ list of policy priorities

In January 2002, just months after the 2001 attacks, 83% of Americans said “defending the country from future terrorist attacks” was a top priority for the president and Congress, the highest for any issue. Since then, sizable majorities have continued to cite that as a top policy priority.

Majorities of both Republicans and Democrats have consistently ranked terrorism as a top priority over the past two decades, with some exceptions. Republicans and Republican-leaning independents have remained more likely than Democrats and Democratic leaners to say defending the country from future attacks should be a top priority. In recent years, the partisan gap has grown larger as Democrats began to rank the issue lower relative to other domestic concerns. The public’s concerns about another attack also remained fairly steady in the years after 9/11, through near-misses and the federal government’s numerous “Orange Alerts” – the second-most serious threat level on its color-coded terrorism warning system.

A 2010 analysis of the public’s terrorism concerns found that the share of Americans who said they were very concerned about another attack had ranged from about 15% to roughly 25% since 2002. The only time when concerns were elevated was in February 2003, shortly before the start of the U.S. war in Iraq.

In recent years, the share of Americans who point to terrorism as a major national problem has declined sharply as issues such as the economy, the COVID-19 pandemic and racism have emerged as more pressing problems in the public’s eyes.

Chart shows in recent years, terrorism declined as a ‘very big’ national problem

In 2016, about half of the public (53%) said terrorism was a very big national problem in the country. This declined to about four-in-ten from 2017 to 2019. Last year, only a quarter of Americans said that terrorism was a very big problem.

This year, prior to the U.S. withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan and the subsequent Taliban takeover of the country, a somewhat larger share of adults said domestic terrorism was a very big national problem (35%) than said the same about international terrorism . But much larger shares cited concerns such as the affordability of health care (56%) and the federal budget deficit (49%) as major problems than said that about either domestic or international terrorism.

Still, recent events in Afghanistan raise the possibility that opinion could be changing, at least in the short term. In a late August survey, 89% of Americans said the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan was a threat to the security of the U.S., including 46% who said it was a major threat.

9/11 school essay

Addressing the threat of terrorism at home and abroad

Just as Americans largely endorsed the use of U.S. military force as a response to the 9/11 attacks, they were initially open to a variety of other far-reaching measures to combat terrorism at home and abroad. In the days following the attack, for example, majorities favored a requirement that all citizens carry national ID cards, allowing the CIA to contract with criminals in pursuing suspected terrorists and permitting the CIA to conduct assassinations overseas when pursuing suspected terrorists.

Chart shows following 9/11, more Americans saw the necessity to sacrifice civil liberties in order to curb terrorism

However, most people drew the line against allowing the government to monitor their own emails and phone calls (77% opposed this). And while 29% supported the establishment of internment camps for legal immigrants from unfriendly countries during times of tension or crisis – along the lines of those in which thousands of Japanese American citizens were confined during World War II – 57% opposed such a measure.

It was clear that from the public’s perspective, the balance between protecting civil liberties and protecting the country from terrorism had shifted. In September 2001 and January 2002, 55% majorities said that, in order to curb terrorism in the U.S., it was necessary for the average citizen to give up some civil liberties. In 1997, just 29% said this would be necessary while 62% said it would not.

For most of the next two decades, more Americans said their bigger concern was that the government had not gone far enough in protecting the country from terrorism than said it went too far in restricting civil liberties.

The public also did not rule out the use of torture to extract information from terrorist suspects. In a 2015 survey of 40 nations, the U.S. was one of only 12 where a majority of the public said the use of torture against terrorists could be justified to gain information about a possible attack.

9/11 school essay

Views of Muslims, Islam grew more partisan in years after 9/11

Concerned about a possible backlash against Muslims in the U.S. in the days after 9/11, then-President George W. Bush gave a speech to the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C., in which he declared: “Islam is peace.” For a brief period, a large segment of Americans agreed. In November 2001, 59% of U.S. adults had a favorable view of Muslim Americans, up from 45% in March 2001, with comparable majorities of Democrats and Republicans expressing a favorable opinion.

Chart shows Republicans increasingly say Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence

This spirit of unity and comity was not to last. In a September 2001 survey, 28% of adults said they had grown more suspicious of people of Middle Eastern descent; that grew to 36% less than a year later.

Republicans, in particular, increasingly came to associate Muslims and Islam with violence. In 2002, just a quarter of Americans – including 32% of Republicans and 23% of Democrats – said Islam was more likely than other religions to encourage violence among its believers. About twice as many (51%) said it was not.

But within the next few years, most Republicans and GOP leaners said Islam was more likely than other religions to encourage violence. Today, 72% of Republicans express this view, according to an August 2021 survey.

Democrats consistently have been far less likely than Republicans to associate Islam with violence. In the Center’s latest survey, 32% of Democrats say this. Still, Democrats are somewhat more likely to say this today than they have been in recent years: In 2019, 28% of Democrats said Islam was more likely than other religions to encourage violence among its believers than other religions.

The partisan gap in views of Muslims and Islam in the U.S. is evident in other meaningful ways. For example, a 2017 survey found that half of U.S. adults said that “Islam is not part of mainstream American society” – a view held by nearly seven-in-ten Republicans (68%) but only 37% of Democrats. In a separate survey conducted in 2017, 56% of Republicans said there was a great deal or fair amount of extremism among U.S. Muslims, with fewer than half as many Democrats (22%) saying the same.

The rise of anti-Muslim sentiment in the aftermath of 9/11 has had a profound effect on the growing number of Muslims living in the United States. Surveys of U.S. Muslims from 2007-2017 found increasing shares saying they have personally experienced discrimination and received public expression of support.

9/11 school essay

It has now been two decades since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon and the crash of Flight 93 – where only the courage of passengers and crew possibly prevented an even deadlier terror attack.

For most who are old enough to remember, it is a day that is impossible to forget. In many ways, 9/11 reshaped how Americans think of war and peace, their own personal safety and their fellow citizens. And today, the violence and chaos in a country half a world away brings with it the opening of an uncertain new chapter in the post-9/11 era.

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About Pew Research Center Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research Center does not take policy positions. It is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts .

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The World 9/11 Took From Us

I’m still mourning the life I lived before I learned that I was different.

9/11 school essay

By Omer Aziz

Mr. Aziz is a writer.

There is something almost magical about New York as summer turns to fall. The changing of the seasons brings a spirit of renewal. People hurry to school and work, propelled by dreams and ambitions. The leaves shift from green to orange. But this beauty is transient. In the evening, when I go on my walks, I look at the two blue lights beaming into the heavens from just south of the old World Trade Center and I try to hold my gaze there. I never last long.

When the Sept. 11 attacks happened, I was an 11-year-old Muslim boy suddenly confused about the world and unsure of my place in it.

I heard the news while I was on the basketball court at recess at my school. A white classmate rushed up to me. He said terrorists had hijacked airplanes and used them to bring down the twin towers. He said America was under attack, that the border was sealed. He said there were more planes in the sky.

Despite my general ignorance — I did not know what the words “hijacking” or “terrorist” meant — I still realized that this major attack had something to do with my people.

When I got home from school, I had questions for my parents: Why had this happened? Why were people looking at us differently? And did this mean that we were also bad people because we prayed to the same God as the attackers? Questions that no parent could adequately answer.

Close to three thousand people were killed that day. For those who lived through it as children, the carnage was inexplicable. The images from the attacks ran in a loop on our television screen, each new repetition hitting harder than the last. Language had always separated me from my parents, but in this horrific instance, their wordless terror was enough to tell me all I needed to know.

My life from that point forward was shaped by this great crime; I tried to distance myself from people who brought destruction to America’s cities, and came up against the twisted perceptions Americans had of brown people. Sept. 11 marked the loss of innocence, the abrupt recognition that I was different, would always be viewed as different, and that the stakes of this difference could be life and death.

At school, we had to write reflections on what we felt. What could a sixth grader say about Sept. 11? I wrote that I was angry that it happened — something generic and bland. I was called into the principal’s office to talk about my reflection. I thought maybe the teachers had discovered that my brother and I went to the mosque every day. But apparently the emotions I‘d expressed in my essay made my teachers concerned. This feeling of standing naked before power — the terror of being found out, even though I’d done nothing wrong — would stay with me.

In college, I quickly learned that this skin and Muslim name of mine required me to tread carefully. Any time the subjects of religion, terrorism, the war in Afghanistan, and yes, Israel, came up, my peers’ questions felt like private interrogations. I had to learn how to navigate this, and how to survive a world darkened by Sept. 11. Every time I am detained at an airport now — it still happens — I silently curse the jihadists who brought down those towers, for the lives they took and for what they unleashed.

Any moment that shakes history is experienced first by the living, in deeply personal terms. The phone calls to relatives and breathless prayers; the panic, the chaos, the desperate hope that the worst is over. In the seconds and hours after impact — themselves entire lifetimes of anguish — there is only uncertainty and horror, in that order. Later, the pain will give way to anger, and public decisions will be made that will set the course of history.

I am part of that final sliver of my generation who will have any living memory of Sept. 11. The people who experienced the attacks as children are now in their mid-20s to early 30s. For those younger than that, what I am describing is an abstract historical fact, like Pearl Harbor or the Vietnam War.

Around my neighborhood in New York there are many such children who have started the new school year. I see them walking to school in the morning, hand-in-hand with their parents, chattering happily. They will not know what I know: that the world in which they are growing up is indelibly marked by this singular tragedy.

I sometimes wonder: What would I tell them if I could? They will only ever know the paranoid and terrorized world that the Sept. 11 attacks gave us. Only know getting onto an airplane as a hellish experience. The hyper-militarized borders and selective detentions and enhanced interrogations, all to be taken as ordinary. The constant surveillance of the national security state. The endless secret wars, waged in the cover of night, in distant places where the victims are invisible.

Because these children will hold blue passports, they may never fully understand the extent to which Sept. 11 further shackled the vast swaths of the world not so fortunate, people born to the wrong countries, who will be sent to the back of the line for as long as they live.

I might tell them a few things my parents were not able to tell me.

At first, there were unlawful detentions and deportations of undocumented people. Soon, a Republican president was deceiving the country and the world into war in Iraq that would lead directly to the chaos and racial hatreds we see today.

Grand proclamations about an “axis of evil”prefaced wars that killed hundreds of thousands of Arabs and brown people, human beings tabulated as mere casualties, the sanctity of their lives incinerated just like the twin towers. The government tortured people and held them in secret prisons.

And then, the double tragedy: young American soldiers — the Sept. 11 generation of heroes — were sent to their early deaths because the attacks on America were hijacked for political ends by people in Washington.

Violence was done not just to bodies, but to language as well, and the word “terrorism” became a catchall phrase used to indict individuals on accusations alone. You had to choose a side: Were you with us, or with the terrorists? The outright manipulation of the people — assisted at times by a credulous media — all coarsened the country, turning a once proud and optimistic nation into a cynical and polarized place. A spiritual pallor descended over America.

If the United States were to have deliberately tried to make the worst possible foreign policy choices in the wake of Sept. 11, the results would have been only a little more disastrous than what actually happened. America invaded one country that had nothing to do with the attacks, and was drawn into a conflict with a tribal-extremist group of another country that could go on in perpetuity.

We were told that America would make no distinction between terrorists and the nations that harbored them. But 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, and there is credible evidence that at least parts of the Saudi government — business partners of both the Bush and Trump families — were aware of the coming attacks. Nothing but more business deals were done.

There was a hidden cost to all this enormous energy expended on war and bombings. Not just the refugees or the cages or the guarantee of tomorrow’s terrorists. Not just the racism and xenophobia internalized by brown-skinned children who became adults in the shadows of this mass tragedy. All the policy focus on war meant there was too little time spent on the cataclysmic challenges of the 21st century: climate change and wealth inequality, both of which will plague our generation long after the warmongers have disappeared.

This is not to exculpate the terrorists or their ideology. For them, I reserve a special fury, just as their actions induce in me a special shame. When I think of Islamists monopolizing and weaponizing a great religion, I am filled with rage — rage at the audacity to shout Allah’s name while sending innocent people to their deaths; rage at the perversion of so many minds by their religious leaders; rage at the reality of living in a brown body that is stereotyped, misperceived and disfigured beyond my recognition — and there is nothing I can do to save it. This is the world Sept. 11 gave us.

Anniversaries safeguard our memories, forcing us to reckon with a past quickly receding into history. Anniversaries also require us to tell stories — especially uncomfortable stories — so that the young ones know something of the world that made them. Years will go by. New memories will replace old ones. The wounds may fade, but their scars will deepen over time.

Those blue lights continue to shimmer in the darkness. New York shimmers. And 18 years later, I am still in mourning, and perhaps always will be, for the worlds that went up in smoke on that September day.

Omer Aziz ( @omeraziz12 ) is the author of the forthcoming book, “Brown Boy: A Story of Race, Religion, and Inheritance.”

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The learning network | teaching 9/11 | why how.

The Learning Network - Teaching and Learning With The New York Times

Teaching 9/11 | Why? How?

Portraits redrawn: the bailey family.

Judy and Kevin Bailey lost their son, Brett, on September 11th. In the decade since the tragedy they have created the Brett T. Bailey Foundation and Kevin has suffered numerous health issues.

Both the start of the new school year and the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, are upon us. Many teachers address 9/11 as part of United States history, while others want to commemorate the anniversary with their students. And there are teachers out there who are hesitating, wondering how to teach about 9/11 in an appropriate and meaningful way, or whether to mention it at all.

This week, we are bringing you a series of posts and lists of resources about 9/11 to help you make your plans. They will include a variety of creative teaching ideas as well as a copious resource collection and other classroom materials. We will update the resources as more becomes available from The New York Times.

We’re starting today with a guest post by two educators explaining why they believe 9/11 should be taught in school. Some of their specific ideas for project-based learning about 9/11 will appear later this week.

Pamela Moran is the superintendent of Albemarle County Public Schools in Virginia and president of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents. Ira David Socol, a graduate student in the College of Education at Michigan State University, consults on curriculum and use of space in schools.

Why September 11, 2001 Must Be in Our Classrooms

By PAMELA R. MORAN AND IRA DAVID SOCOL People react to horrific events differently. Some are mesmerized. Others turn away. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2011, constitute a horrific event in the history of the United States that continues to influence our societal, political and personal decisions.

That day is, for most adults, recalled as a series of images and feelings. On this anniversary, all those images — blurred by time — will come into focus once again.

We’ll also be reminded by these images of the difficult decade the United States and the world have had in the 10 years since 2001. There have been further attacks in London and Madrid , and attempts elsewhere. More than 6,000 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan , with more than 10 times that injured.

There is a sense that politics in many nations, especially the United States, has become angrier and more divided. As parents and teachers we might want to avoid 9/11 for a lot of reasons — social-emotional, cultural, religious and political.

Is avoidance the right choice for our young people?

But is avoidance the right choice for our young people? We need to ask ourselves how our own beliefs and dispositions color perspectives on how to approach 9/11 with students.

Numerous questions arise. How can we revisit 9/11 in our homes and classrooms and explore its complex contexts in sensitive ways? Might our children’s reflections on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 help us become a nation of better citizens, of stronger and more decent communities? Can we use the memories of this horrific day to improve our students’ futures?

For most students, the memories will primarily be secondhand stories. To them, 9/11 is history.

It is easy to look at learners in today’s classrooms around the world and see them as existing in an entirely new age . They have grown up in a decade when — perhaps because of the online world — borders seem less real than was imaginable even 10 years ago, perhaps less real than at any moment since the rise of nation-states.

Today’s students will enter a world of adulthood in which information does not come curated by editors in large, downtown buildings. Rather, they are direct information consumers, creators and distributors, interpreting current events and building history.

But in another sense, the post-9/11 world is not entirely new. We in the United States in 2001 might have felt a sense of security disappear, but the experience was not much different than what was felt by those who lived through the blackouts on America’s East and West coasts during World War II or those who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s with air raid drills in school or riots in our own streets .

We may have viewed “terrorism” as something new to us, but only because we have forgotten pivotal events of the past. We may have thought the loss of life on Sept. 11, 2001, was “unimaginable,” but only because even the worst events often fade into historical footnotes.

History is not usually taught in a way that lets us look back through the eyes of a child in a dark 1942 Times Square with submarines torpedoing our ships just 10 miles offshore, or from the viewpoint of a student in the 1950s hiding under a school desk while sirens wailed.

As students begin to investigate the stories of 9/11, 10 years after it occurred, they can benefit from critical learning strategies to explore not just those events, but much more importantly, how history is constructed and why. Indeed, they must.

Citizenship and Constructing History

An understanding of history revitalizes citizenship in an era when students can witness history being constructed. They can watch Wikipedia entries being edited as events happen . They can switch between cable channels and view radically different versions of history’s stories in the making. They can easily see how front page coverage of an event varies around the nation and the world . Using their computers or phones, they can watch films and video offering contradictory visions of both current events and history.

This struggle over how the past is remembered reaches students in many other ways. Not just through news, but through films, novels and other fiction and even video games like “Call of Duty.” All leave impressions of history, akin to those conveyed about World War I by “All Quiet on the Western Front” and “Sergeant York,” of Vietnam by “Apocalypse Now” and “Rambo,” and of Iraq by “The Hurt Locker” and “Generation Kill.”

Our students cannot continue to learn history simply by recalling dates and names of leaders. That form of sanitized school history has too often produced a public unable to critique politically motivated revisions of history. It is also not enough to present “two sides to a story.” Rather, our students must learn how to look deeply and critically into multidimensional stories that are the building blocks of our shared understanding of history.

Learners who realize that history occurs chronologically but is best understood conceptually become historians for a lifetime. They are intrigued by the connections and relationships of historic events and realize there’s more to history than dates, places and names in a book or on a test. They seek history’s stories and pass those stories on to the next generation. They learn that history emerges from the people who populate these stories and is brought forward by those who document and tell those stories. They ask questions.

In this century, we are all historians.

We must engage our young people in the construction of history. In this century, we are all historians, researching, comprehending, assembling, reporting and storytelling.

Sept. 11, 2001, subject to multiple forms of “telling” almost since the day itself, is an important place to initiate this work since the events of that day have become so essential to Americans and their relationships to their own government and the world.

We suggest beginning with the concept of history as stories, and with students’ own knowledge and impressions. Ask them: What stories do we tell and hear about 9/11 today? How do 9/11 stories differ ? How does where you live affect the 9/11 stories told today? Why do we tell these stories?

In remembering 9/11 on its 10th anniversary, we provide learners in 2011 with an opportunity to research the stories and write their own history of this horrific event. In doing so, they will remind us why it’s important we all remember.

Comments are no longer being accepted.

Pam and Ira, well written, and thank you for recommending that classroom not avoid 9/11 discussions.

From our experience, an excellent 9/11 resource for teachers and students are their peers abroad.

After 9/11, the White House and US Department of Education asked our educational network, iEARN to lead a consortium of organizations to assist US educators and students in linking with peers in countries with significant Muslim populations. This effort, called Friendship Through Education, was complemented by three new US Department of State supported exchange programs for high school youth: Youth Exchange and Study (YES), National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y), and Global Connections and Exchange, which Undersecretary of State Judith McHale called a “landmark public diplomacy initiative.” Inevitably, every exchange student engages in 9/11 discussions. Through these programs, discussions take place in an environment of trust and respect, both formally in the classroom, and, more often, informally around a host family kitchen table or over a cafeteria lunch. YES students in US schools for a year are tremendous resources, as are the US students traveling for a year to Egypt, Morocco, and Jordan to learn Arabic.

Unfortunately, only a few thousand exchange students travel abroad each year, so most US students do not have a student from a predominantly Muslim country sitting next to them in their classroom. To address this, the Departments of State and Education are supporting a new “Exchange 2.0” effort, which features organizations such as Soliya and Global Nomads, Twitter groups such as #kinderchat, and thousands of US schools such as Passaic Valley High School and Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. The partners are developing virtual connections that are scalable, cost-efficient, and inclusive of traditionally underserved participants. Through these connections US students and teachers are engaged daily in direct dialogue and meaningful projects with peers of all faiths worldwide. Working with the Tribute WTC Visitor Center, for example, iEARN has created a program for classes visiting the Center to turn the tragedy of that day into an effort build understanding through online project collaboration.

9/11 impacted how Americans interact with the world as much as new technologies have over the last decade. The 10th anniversary is a day for US teachers and students to reflect upon how they can learn with the world, not just about it.

As a young elementary aged student in the 1950s, we never experienced a Pearl Harbor Day remembrance, an event that was only a generation removed. I recall seeing the date listed on wall calendars, but no commemoration was ever conducted at our school, or in our community, as far as I know. Memorial Day was the only official acknowledgement of the ultimate sacrifice made by American service members.

I am the principal of Seton Catholic Central High School in Binghamton, NY. We plan on remembering and teaching about 9/11. On September 9, the school’s opening Mass for the school year will be in memory of the victims of 9/11. We have invited Binghamton firefighters, who assisted in recovery efforts, to speak about their impressions and experiences at Ground Zero. We have also invited veterans of the Iraq and Afganistan wars, who have connections with the school, to discuss their roles in these conflicts. Our theology classes will focus on an interfaith discussion of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Our students have grown up with the consequences of 9/11. To have an understanding of the profound issues facing the nation and the globe today they must be familiar with the events of 9/11. The tenth anniversary of 9/11 is a critical teaching moment.

I am a student, and to be honest I really thought history was boring because all of the dates you had to remember for tests. But now by reading this learning network article I started to think about how you really need to deeply understand the history of something. And by understanding it you will realize that it is essential to human life.

I think 9/11 should be taught in schools across the world, and we shouldn’t neglect it, we should understand and remember the event.

We have taught about 9/11 in our elementary school, with age appropriate material since it occurred. we not only have a word of silence, read stories,sing songs, write poems, draw pictures, express feelings, but we have established a 9/11 Memorial Perennial Garden that the students work in and have lessons in. This year in commemoration of the 10th anniversary, we will be holding a special assembly, where the students will express their feelings in song, poems,etc and will rededicate our garden. The garden serves twofold-to never forget those lost on that day while serving as promise for the future to strive for peace. Every school throughout the nation should have 9/11 curriculum in place. I am currently on a quest to write curriculum particularly for the elementary school age child. This should never be forgotten and is a piece of history every child in america should know about…

This is a brilliant post that every educator, and parent, should read.

It precisely captures how history can help us understand the present, and how it gave me hope after 9/11. The attacks and their effects were indeed “unimaginable,” and the wound to NYC so grievous that I wondered how it would ever recover.

I drew a lot of comfort from re-reading the details of the Blitz of London, and realizing that if London recovered from months of nightly bombings, NYC and the US would recover from the events of that morning.

Students should always be taught how the people of NYC, Washington and the rest of the US resolved to move beyond the unimaginable, how the world banded together to support us, and how the heroes of that day and the ones that followed turned the story of 9/11 into one about the bravery and devotion to duty that our people can show.

It will serve them well when drawing connections and relationships from 9/11 to unimaginable events that occur in their adulthood.

Hello! I am glad to read some of the above. I live in a community where we are surrounded by two USAF bases. I teach 4-5 year olds who have family members who are surving overseas for this cause! I am always a military wife. Is there a way in which I could TEACH 9/11 in an age appropriate manor for a group of 4-5 year olds. 9/11 will always be remembered and it is really important to teach these children about it…

An extremely powerful and educational way to learn about 9-11 is through an organization like September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. They are family members of 9/11 victims who have figure out how to turn their grief into steps towards peace, justice, and reconciliation. //www.peacefultomorrows.org . This organization recently collaborated with an educational magazine, The Change Agent (free online at //www.nelrc.org/changeagent ) to produce materials for the classroom. Through storytelling, reflective essays, poems, and background facts, students can use The Change Agent to learn about the history of 9/11, wrestle with important legal and moral questions related to security and liberty, and examine the “rule of law” in the context of terrorism.

My last three school aged children weren’t even born but have heard about this tragedy and wanted to know more. I kept it simple especially since many had already seen the attack on tv days before. Keep it age appropriate and inform parents and administration what you can and can not do. This day should not be taught we these very same children are older. I wouldn’t want them to wonder why I never spoke to them about it. Children are a lot smarter than we think.

This is a very good idea…and it’s about time. It seems like people just want to forget about this tragic even, and it would be easier to go unnoticed and be forgotten by the young generation. Kids will start asking questions…How did the buildings collapse in on themselves that way?…Where was our military? Why weren’t the hijacked planes intercepted by fighter jets?… Was there an investigation?…How were the terrorists’ passports found in the rubble when the buildings were completely obliterated…and not even a single body could be found? Why don’t we see a plane crashing into the pentagon, and just an explosion in the video footage? Why is the crash site of flight 93 all spread out and in such small pieces? And…why were the 9/11 first responders denied entry to the 10th year anniversary? Ignorance is not a crime…but there are a lot of questions we haven’t been asking. The 9/11 truth movement has been demanding answers. We should know the truth about what happened on 9/11, regardless of age, because this is our country. The Shell Game novel is the first thing that really woke me up and got me thinking about 9/11. It made me realized a lot of things that I’ve never even questioned before, but now seem obvious to me. But when it really comes down to the truth, it’s a test of your real character, who you are on the inside. Anyone can come to the same conclusion as I have. It just takes some research and investigating for yourselves on what really happened, and why it happened. I think every student should see the video footage of the buildings collapsing, and reflect on what they are taught about the laws of physics. The exact manner those buildings collapsed matched what you would see in a controlled demolition. And anyone can watch that. People need to further investigate and spread the word, because we were not told the true story.

As a student, I believe we should be taught about these types of things. Without the recognizing 9/11, we’re pretending it didn’t happen. Pretending it didn’t happen is not something that is respectful to that day. Knowledge is so vital to us that if this history is not taught to my generation, we won’t know what not to repeat. The world shouldn’t keep secrets and I don’t believe that teachers should be preventing pupils like myself from learning about such disastrous events. We need to know not to repeat history. We need to know what is going on in our world. We need to know that as much as we want it to be, we do not live in a perfect world and that in order to prevent events like 9/11 from happening, we have to work harder and acquire the knowledge in order to prevent those events.

Just listen to this NYC high school student talk about how a class project on 9/11 deepened her thinking and enlarged her perspectives about the attacks, //bit.ly/pPLYl1

Probably the most comprehensive and very well thought out article I have found on this subject on the net. Maintain on writing, I will keep on visiting to read your new content. This is my fifth time visiting your website .

I would like to learn about all of the new information hat people started to learn and discover during the time of the Renaisance. I would like to learn about the advances in technology and more that were made during this time period. I would also like to know more about how people lived during this time and would society was like.

I think that children should be taught about September 11th and the schools should not ignore this very significant event in out country’s history. The day before the 11th this year, my 4th grade daughter came home and told me that they had discussed it a little in her classroom. I suggested that since it had been discussed maybe she could write an essay about it to bring in that day in remembrance of what happened. She didn’t draw any pictures except an American flag and basically said it was sad that so many people died and that there was a memorial in Ny for the 3000 lost there.

I agree that children should be taught about 9/11/01, however, given the world we live in and the things that they experience daily in life (just turn on the news) – I think it requires a balance of both positive and negative. As a WTC survivor, I have spoke publicly many times about my experiences that day. While I could have spent the last 11+ years focusing on the negative, evil, or horrific things that I witnessed first hand, I choose to share an inspirational message of love, friendship, patriotism, faith and spirituality. It has been these things that have comforted me in my darkest hours. One of the most profound audiences I have share my intimate experiences with has been a rural 4th grade classroom. I was shocked at the things the children knew and the questions they asked. This group of kids were born that year so they don’t recall life before 9/11/01. As they have grown they have seen and heard LOTS of negative things so it was good to be able to share some positive things with them. The children are our future generation and we should take great pride and caution in our duty to share the past (correctly & accurately) with them as it will shape their mind and our path ahead. I have learned that EVERYONE remembers 9/11/01 and their need to share it with me personally is their way of connecting.

What's Next

Remembering September 11

Learn how this historic day in 2001 changed the lives of those living in the United States—and around the world.

On September 11, 2001, people in New York City woke up to a beautiful late summer day. It was a Tuesday, and people were preparing for another day at work and school.

Thousands of people headed for the World Trade Center, a complex of seven buildings that included a pair of skyscrapers known as the twin towers. Each tower had 110 stories and stood about 1,360 feet high. The tallest buildings in New York City at the time, the twin towers rose above the city’s downtown skyline. Nobody there knew that in just a few hours, both buildings would fall.

A shocking event

People who live in New York are used to seeing and hearing airplanes flying overhead. But on the morning of September 11, people stopped on the streets and looked up. The sound of an approaching airplane was too loud, and the plane seemed to be flying too low. To the horror of people watching below, the airplane flew straight into one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. 

American Airlines Flight 11 hit the north tower at 8:46 a.m. The impact of the crash tore a hole that stretched from the 93rd to 99th floors of the building. Smoke and flames poured out of the tower. Many people thought they had just seen a terrible accident. But 17 minutes later, a second plane flew into another one of the World Trade Center buildings—this time into the south tower. 

United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the 77th through 85th floors of the south tower at 9:03 a.m. Some cell phone and TV station cameras caught the second attack on film. The footage was played over and over again on television. Soon people knew that hijackers—individuals who capture an aircraft, ship, or vehicle by force—had taken over the planes. A group of men had taken control of the cockpit of each airplane and flown them into the buildings on purpose.

The attack continues

The United States was under attack. About half an hour after the second tower was struck in New York City, hijackers crashed a third airplane. American Airlines Flight 77 hit the west side of the Pentagon, a five-sided concrete building that serves as headquarters for the U.S. Department of Defense, in Arlington, Virginia , just outside Washington, D.C. The plane’s fuel tanks exploded, and two giant fireballs blasted into the air.

The U.S. government ordered all airplanes flying over the country to land as soon as possible. But it was too late for United Airlines Flight 93. Hijackers had already taken control of this fourth aircraft. They were flying the plane toward Washington, D.C.

Passengers and crew members on the plane called loved ones, who told them about the other attacks in New York and Virginia. People on Flight 93 thought their aircraft would be used as a weapon, too. So they fought the hijackers to try to get control of the plane. In a phone call recorded as passengers and crew began to fight back, passenger Todd Beamer was heard saying, “Are you ready? OK, let’s roll.”

Flight 93 eventually crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania . The crash site was close to the hijackers’ likely target, a government building in Washington, D.C.

The rescue begins

Back in New York City, dark smoke poured from the twin towers. People rushed to escape the area, which later became known as ground zero. First responders—including police officers, firefighters, and paramedics—arrived within minutes of the first attack on the World Trade Center. They rushed into both towers to help people trapped inside, even though it would be an extremely difficult rescue operation. Almost all the elevators in the twin towers had stopped working. So rescuers started climbing up the stairs, but many were blocked by rubble or fire. Still, firefighters forged ahead, ignoring the danger. ( Read more about the heroes of 9/11 .)          

The towers fall

When the airplanes hit the twin towers, they caused massive damage. Concrete floors were destroyed. Steel support beams were cut in two. Floors above the crash sites started to sag downward. Meanwhile, the sprinklers in both buildings were damaged. There was nothing to stop the raging fires, which became hot enough to weaken steel. The buildings grew unstable. Then they collapsed.

The south tower fell first. Once it began to crumble, it took only 10 seconds for it to collapse. The impact caused the north tower to shake, and it, too, crumbled to the ground 29 minutes later.

First responders helped many people before the twin towers collapsed. More than 25,000 made it out of the buildings before they fell. But nearly 3,000 people—from the twin towers, the Pentagon, and the four airplanes—died in the attacks that day.

The official response

The events of September 11, 2001, shook the nation. The U.S. government had to respond. President George W. Bush led the country in a day of prayer and remembrance. Then he led the nation’s effort to find and punish the people who had caused the attacks.

A terrorist group based in Afghanistan (a country in the Middle East) called al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the 9/11 attacks. Their leader was Osama bin Laden. Al Qaeda and bin Laden considered the United States to be their enemy, which is why the hijackers used the airplanes to attack important U.S. buildings. In total, 19 hijackers took over the four planes that crashed on 9/11.

World leaders promised to help the United States punish al Qaeda and locate their leader. In October 2001, the United States and its allies started military actions in Afghanistan, searching for members of al Qaeda who worked with bin Laden to plan and carry out the 9/11 attacks. It would take nearly 10 years for these forces to locate and kill bin Laden himself, who was eventually discovered hiding in nearby Pakistan in May 2011.

Banding together

Although the 9/11 attacks took place in the United States, many people from other countries felt that a terrorist attack on such a powerful nation was a threat to peace around the world. They brought flowers to U.S. embassies and lit candles to honor the victims. They gathered to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” One French newspaper showed its support with the front-page headline “Nous sommes tous Américains,” meaning: “We are all Americans.”

After the attacks, many people in the United States wanted to show support for their country, too. They gave flowers, candles, food, and thank-you notes to first responders. U.S. residents and organizations also donated a record-breaking $2.8 billion to help the families of victims of the attacks. By the end of 2001, more than 300 U.S. charities were raising money for the cause.

Most Americans tried to help others after the 9/11 attacks. But some people took their anger and fear out on people who looked like they came from the same Middle Eastern countries as the hijackers. Innocent people who had nothing to do with the events of 9/11 were attacked and not treated fairly.    

20 years later

A lot has changed since September 11, 2001. To prevent similar terrorist attacks from happening in the country, the United States government created the Department of Homeland Security in 2002. The organization is responsible for border security, immigrations and customs, and disaster relief and prevention. But they also keep a close watch over suspected terrorist groups and send warnings if they think the country and its people are in danger. That way, the government can protect them.

Air travel became stricter after 9/11. Before the attacks, private security companies performed all airport screenings. After September 11, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was created to give the federal government direct responsibility for all airport screenings. In 2002, the TSA began using explosive detection systems nationwide to screen all bags for explosives. They also installed more advanced technologies, such as the full-body scanner, to ensure travelers weren’t trying to bring anything harmful on an airplane. (The hijackers used weapons they had carried onboard to gain control of the aircrafts.) Other rules—like using small containers for liquids like shampoo or removing shoes during security checks—were put in place to make sure people didn’t sneak dangerous things onboard.

The United States also entered a long war on terror abroad. In addition to sending troops to Afghanistan, Bush also sent troops to Iraq in 2003 because of rumors that the country was hiding dangerous weapons. By the time Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, some 4,500 American soldiers had died in Afghanistan and Iraq, with many thousands more wounded.

Many Americans felt the loss of life wasn’t worth it—bin Laden was still missing, and no weapons were ever found. But in 2011, bin Laden was finally located and killed. His death was a blow to al Qaeda and gave some U.S. citizens hope that progress was being made in the fight against terrorism.

By the end of 2011, Obama had withdrawn all combat troops from Iraq. But U.S. troops were still fighting in Afghanistan by the end of his second term in 2017. And another terrorist group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), threatened the region throughout Obama’s presidency and into Donald Trump ’s single term as president, too.

During Trump’s term in office, he announced the removal of all troops from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021. Trump’s successor, Joe Biden , delayed the removal, announcing that the United States would be removing all troops from Afghanistan by August 31 instead, just before the 20-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Honoring the victims 

Memorials now stand to pay tribute to those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001. The 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City contains pools set within each area where the twin towers stood; the names of all the 9/11 victims from each tower are inscribed on bronze panels. At the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, each of the 184 benches is dedicated to a victim of the Virginia attack. And the Tower of Voices at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania has 40 wind chimes to honor the plane’s passengers and crew members.

The attacks on September 11, 2001, shook the world and made people realize that even a powerful country like the United States could be a victim of terrorism. But the horrific event also brought Americans closer together. As U.S. senator John Kerry said at the time, “It was the worst day we have ever seen, but it brought out the best in all of us.”

Text partially adapted from the Nat Geo Kids book September 11   by Libby Romero.

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Heroes of 9/11.

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How to Help Your Students Observe the 9/11 Anniversary

There are numerous online resources available for teaching about 9/11.

9/11 school essay

Whether it's with a moment of silence or an outpouring of service, schools across the country are considering how to help their students observe the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. A wide range of resources are available to assist educators as they seek learning opportunities around this emotion-charged date.

Build Resilience

Media coverage of the anniversary is certain to be intense, including graphic images of the terror attacks and interviews with survivors. Most of today's students are too young to remember the day the Twin Towers fell, but coverage may nonetheless trigger fear, grief, anxiety, and other strong reactions. The National Association of School Psychologists recommends reinforcing children's natural resilience, and helping them "to see themselves as a positive force in their world, even in the face of adversity." NASP has produced a series of 9/11 discussion guides (in English in Spanish) for teachers and parents.

Explore Artifacts

9/11 Memorial website of the National September 11 Memorial Museum at the World Trade Center, provides information and multimedia resources for understanding the events of 2001. A section of the site specifically for educators suggests that students may be considering difficult questions as the anniversary approaches, such as, "Why would someone do this?" Or, "What does this mean for me?" To help students make their own sense of history, 9/11 Memorial provides access to artifacts. Exploring the collection of the collection of post-9/11 tributes , for example, might inspire new student projects for the 10th anniversary.

Learn through Stories

Learning through stories of personal transformation is the theme of the educational toolkit produced by the World Trade Center Tribute Site. Video portraits introduce eight individuals whose lives were forever changed by 9/11. Ada Dolch, for example, was principal of a high school a block from the World Trade Center. She helped to establish a school in Afghanistan to honor her sister, who was killed in the attacks. The educator toolkit offers information on how students can gather oral histories. It also links to a global collaboration project, "Breaking Stereotypes," hosted by iEARN.

Write to Learn

Rethinking Schools produced an award-winning special report in the aftermath of 9/11 called War, Terrorism and Our Classrooms . The contents continue to offer a rich repository of writing prompts and teaching strategies. For example, an essay by the late naturalist Steven Jay Gould explained a theory he called "the Great Asymmetry," in which "every spectacular incident of evil will be balanced by 10,000 acts of kindness, too often unnoted and invisible as the 'ordinary' efforts of a vast majority." Students might respond to his essay by drawing their own version of what Gould called a "web of bustling goodness," or writing stories that document examples of human compassion in their communities.

Consider How We Remember

A day after the terror attacks, the American Folklife Center marshaled the nation's folklorists to document America's reaction. The outpouring of songs, pictures, and words by Americans of all ages has been catalogued in a collection called the September 11, 2001, Documentary Project, archived by the Library of Congress American Memory project . The collection, available online, could be the springboard for student projects that make use of historical artifacts for inquiry in social studies, writing, art, music, or interdisciplinary studies.

Learn through Service

September 11 has been memorialized as a National Day of Service and Remembrance. Service events to honor the tenth anniversary are taking place in communities across the country, and more than a million Americans are expected to take part in projects ranging from food drives to neighborhood cleanups. United We Serve offers an online search for service opportunities by ZIP code. Toolkits are available to help you plan your own community service project.

Use the News

Exploring how news organization tell the story of 9/11 -- a decade ago or today -- can help students deepen their media literacy skills and learn why the news has been called the first draft of history. Resources to help students think more critically about the news include:

  • The Learning Network of The New York Times : Teacher-friendly blog is updated daily with educational resources and lesson ideas based on articles, photos, podcasts, and more materials published in The New York Times. In this post on teaching about 9/11 , teachers weigh in with comments about their upcoming classroom plans. Teachers are also encouraged to submit posts about how they use the news for learning.
  • Newseum : This media museum based in Washington, DC, offers online resources, such as newspaper front pages from around the world .
  • Newspaper Map : This interactive map allows you to find and translate newspapers from 10,000 sites around the world.
  • Newsmap : This site shows how world headlines are trending in real time across several categories.
  • Media Literacy Skills: Interpreting Tragedy (PDF download) : Available for download from the National Council for the Social Studies, this publication by media literacy expert Renee Hobbs explains why it's important for students to think critically and also create their own content in response to events.

Today's students have grown up with social networks that weren't yet invented in 2001. Facebook didn't start until 2004; Twitter didn't launch until 2006. Help your students think about how these platforms have changed the way that information travels. Where do students turn first for information? How do they decide what's "true" when they hear about breaking events? How might they contribute their own stories or photos as citizen journalists?

Share Your Ideas

How will you observe the 10th anniversary with your students? Please share your stories and ideas for learning.

9/11 school essay

Please note that this is our busiest time of year — we encourage you to  view updated information and tips  on navigating the crowds before your visit. 

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  • Lesson Plans

The 9/11 Memorial & Museum offers interactive lesson plans for students in grades 3 to 12 that address the 9/11 attacks, their ongoing repercussions, and the history of the World Trade Center. Lessons plans are divided by grade level and theme below.

Several students with clipboards walk through the Tribute Walk, a Museum space where art related to 9/11 is displayed.

Featured Lesson Plan: Local Heroes

  • Essential Question:  What is a hero and how can people show gratitude to those who act heroically in their own communities?
  • Grades: 3 to 5
  • Theme: Memorializing 9/11

A group of students sit around a table, holding pencils, and peering down as they work. They are deeply engaged in a learning activity.

More Lesson Plans

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Lesson plans results, the evolving threat of terrorism.

  • Essential Question:  How has the threat of terrorism evolved, and what can counterterrorism agents learn from the hunt for bin Laden?
  • Grades: 9 to 12
  • Theme: Repercussions of 9/11

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What Happened on 9/11?, Part II

  • Essential Question: What happened on 9/11?
  • Grades: 6 to 12
  • Theme: Events of 9/11

A navy blue graphic card reads Events of 9/11, Grades 6 to 12.

The President Decides: Authorizing a Raid

  • Essential Question:  How was the decision made to authorize a raid on the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan?

A red graphic card reads Repercussions of 9/11, Grades 9 to 12.

What Happened on 9/11?, Part I

  • Essential Question:  What happened on 9/11?

A navy blue graphic card reads Events of 9/11, Grades 6 to 12.

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Photo Essay: Remembering 9/11 at Duke

Jill McWhirter, who was visiting Duke to watch her daughter’s soccer game, joined the Duke vigil Saturday morning.

Jill McWhirter, who was visiting Duke to watch her daughter’s soccer game, joined the Duke vigil Saturday morning.

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At the very moment that two decades before the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center at the start of the 9/11 attacks, faith leaders from across the campus led a ‘Remember and Hope’ Interfaith Vigil in front of Duke Chapel to honor victims of the attacks and to find a way to use hope to build a better world.  The vigil included moments of prayer, reading and silent reflection. 

Powery concluded the ceremony by calling on the community to use the memory of the attacks to find the humanity to "live together as brothers."

"When we remember the dead, we remember the grief and the loss, but we also remember what is yet to be, we remember our future and try to put our lives back together again. Memory can be difficult and painful, but it is also the space out of which hope rises," Powery said.

He ended the vigil singing a spiritual from the voices of enslaved African peoples.

Rev. Luke Powery speaks at Saturday's 9/11 vigil

The event drew members from the Duke and local communities, as well as some visitors. All came to honor the victims of the attacks, the courage of the first responders, and to reflect on how hope can help about a more peaceful world. “I always go to a 9/11 service wherever I am,” said Jill McWhirter (pictured at top), who was visiting Duke to watch her daughter’s soccer game.

In his remarks, Price quoted poet Maya Angelou on the persistence of trauma that lives on “in our heart, our mind, and our memories.” But he added that Angelou also reminds us that “we are not left with our memories alone—we also have our hearts and our minds.”

“Together,” Price said, “we can turn with our hearts to build a more inclusive, empathic community here at Duke and beyond. We can use our minds to foster a greater understanding of our world and our place in it, and to live lives of service to our neighbors and engagement with our communities.”

After the vigil, participants were invited to visit the Memorial plaque on Keohane Quad that honors the six Duke alumni killed in the 9/11 attacks.

President Price at the 9/11 plaque in Keohane Quad.

Saturday evening, the memorial continued with a Chapel concert featuring the Ciompi Quartet and the Duke Chapel Schola Cantorum singers performing compositions with themes of remembrance, peace and reconciliation, interspersed with readings from various faith traditions. In addition, the Chapel hosted an exhibition of photographs of past campus vigils and protests.

Photos and slideshow by Jared Lazarus/Duke University

20 Years After 9/11 . How Duke has remembered the 9/11 attacks, honored its victims and reflected on how the world has changed.

Those Who Run to Danger. Professor David Schanzer discusses an exhibit in Washingon, D.C., that explores the changes in policing that have taken place over this period in response to the challenges that the 9/11 attacks gave rise to.

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Essays revisited: Reflecting on 9/11

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In the days and weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, the Times ran dozens of analysis and opinion pieces examining how the events of that day might change the United States and the world. We asked some of the writers who contributed their thoughts after the tragedy to look back at what they wrote then and reflect on it from the vantage point of today.

Richard Rodriguez works at New America Media. His book on the influence of the desert on the Abrahmic religions will be published next year.

On the Sunday after 9/11, Rodriguez wrote eloquently that “it was a week when words failed us. We sensed ourselves entering some terrible epoch, but we did not have sufficient nouns and verbs.” Ten years later, the words are clearer, as is the extent of what was lost.

I believe the time has come to put away the ceremonies of 9/11—the politicians’ speeches at Ground Zero, the parade of children holding the photos of their dead fathers and mothers, the bag-pipes, the tolling bell, the roll call of the dead.

Those of us who were alive that day will always dread the annual alignment of those two numbers — nine, eleven -- the blue September sky; our thoughts will return to the ashes. Let that be the way of it. There is no moratorium on grief.

The dreadful mnemonic date has formed a seal over our minds. Something is wrong. It will not be fixed.

In generations past, America used wounds to form armies. Remember the Alamo! Remember the Maine! After the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt bore witness to December 7, “a date which will live in infamy.”

In the decade since the attacks of September 11th, Americans have turned inward. We have become a nation obsessed with guarding our borders, particularly the Mexican border, even as ghostly TSA images of our naked bodies reach upward, as though under arrest.

We eschew the international, except for the deserts from which the terrorists came. Under the banner of 9/11, President George W. Bush sent Americans to war against Iraq. We were crazed. Osama bin Laden was the leering genie within the explosions. We toppled Saddam Hussein. We ended up fighting Taliban tribesmen in Kandahar.

When American special forces killed Osama bin Laden in May (we do not remember the date), there was no pervading sense in America that the era of 9/11 was finished. Some Americans danced in the street, waved flags, honked their horns. The fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan went on.

What is maddening us is that the wars of 9/11 can have no ending, because we have no clear purpose, because they have no clear adversary. We are not fighting nations; we are fighting peasants and mercenaries and religious ideologues and millionaires. In the war against terrorism, there will never be an “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”; it will always be 9/11.

But an America that only guards against a dangerous world diminishes its power in the world. In the last ten years, China has usurped the noun Americans thought we held the patent to—the “future.”

While we have deployed troops backward, into the Bible, China has built dams in Africa and made trade agreements with South America. The Chinese have welcomed young men and women from the Third World to Chinese universities. While U.S. troops are killed building roads between tribal villages in Afghanistan, the Chinese sign mineral contracts in Kabul.

The “Arab spring” that began in Tunisia and spread throughout the Middle East has toppled dictators with whom our government maintained “relationships.” We want to feel encouraged by the youthful rebellions. We want to conflate rebellion with American democracy in the designs of the crowd. All the while, we worry the stage is being set for a coming Islamist revival.

Some in our national media have advanced the hope that American technology is liberating the young of the Middle East. Are Apple, Facebook and Twitter democratizing the region? My suspicion is that Americans are confusing conveyance with content. We credit the iPhone with ideological apps that the rest of the world does not necessarily buy.

Hemmed in by an adversarial world, we turn on each other: President Bush was, in the eyes of his critics on the left, a fool wound up by big business. President Barack Obama, according to his critics on the right, is a socialist and a Muslim. Our Congress has become an international scandal. Conservatives versus progressives.

About the only thing that Washington and the nation can seem to manage these days are monuments—we are monument mad, anniversary obsessed. Which leads us to Ground Zero, the tenth anniversary.

This year, put your hand on your heart for all who were lost, for all we have lost, then turn from this place and look at it no more, and see what our nation has become.

Geraldine Brooks, former Mideast correspondent and author, most recently, of the novel Caleb’s Crossing.

In a December 2001 essay titled “ Iraqi people deserve to be liberated ,” Brooks wrote: “Iraq is a far richer country than Afghanistan, gifted with oil, water, good farmland, scenic beauty, rare antiquities. Were it were not for the bleak and terrible regime of Hussein, it could be the showplace of the region. Now is the time to make some belated amends for a tragic mistake. Some in the Bush Cabinet want to strike Iraq to safeguard the West from future terrorism. That is a reason. But there is an even better one. It should be done for the sake of the Iraqis.”

When I wrote those words, I thought I knew Iraq pretty much as well as any non-Iraqi at that time could know it. I’d traveled there many times, in war and peace, visited its cities under oppression and during their brief liberation, in 1980s prosperity and 1990s decline. I’d met with dissidents and torture victims in Europe, Australia and the Mideast. I had seen the effects of Saddam’s brutal terror, but I hadn’t understood that it also acted as a vise, holding that nation together.

It might be possible to plead that in the run up to the war none of us could foresee the depth of fecklessness of the Bush/Cheney administration, or know just how profoundly the plan for the peace had been neglected. So ideological blindness begat the grim fiesta of lawlessness and looting, squandered Iraqi trust, inspired and enabled insurgency.

But the truth and the lessons of Iraq are more compelling and far simpler. Augustine knew them when he set out the basis of just war theory in the fourth century: One should never resort to war unless the threat is existential and there is no other way to answer it; success should be likely and the suffering created less than the suffering averted. Neither of the first two criteria applied to the Iraq war, and the others remain debatable.

Iraqis have had to endure a decade of fear and continue to live with a ravaged infrastructure. The birth pains of their freedom have been unnecessarily agonizing and their future remains uncertain. For us, meanwhile, the costs of war are everywhere apparent: in the shattered bodies of soldiers, in a glinting prosperity dulled by crushing debt, and in a national psyche coarsened by a war whose unequal sacrifice has demanded so much from a few and little more than jingoistic platitudes from the rest.

Peter Tomsen, U.S. special envoy and ambassador on Afghanistan from 1989 to 1992 and author of the just-published “The Wars of Afghanistan.”

In his October 2001 essay “ Past Provides Lessons for Afghanistan’s Future ,” Tomsen warned that: “If the U.S. military offensive is drawn out, and Washington lacks an overarching strategic vision for the region, Pakistan could unravel. Islamic militants would take to the streets, the already wobbly economy could fall and the army splinter into rival factions.” Today Tomsen is still worried.

We entered Afghanistan with the best of intentions, but 10 years later, it is clear that American policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan has not succeeded.

There are those who will say we should have pressed the war harder, that we should have committed more forces. That was not the problem. Even 500,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan could not bring peace as long as Pakistan’s army and military intelligence service, the ISI, continue to foster sanctuaries for international terrorist groups inside Pakistan.

Today, American and Afghan troops are under constant attack from a variety of Pakistan-supported organizations, including the Afghan Taliban, the Afghan Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar networks, and three ISI-created Pakistani religio-terrorist organizations. Since 9/11, numerous international terrorists, including Faizal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square bomber, have been trained in Pakistani sanctuaries for extremists.

It is clear that Pakistan’s generals have no more intention of dismantling these safe havens now than they had before 9/11. If Washington does not finally deal with Pakistan’s duplicity, our stabilization efforts in Afghanistan will fail and the country will slip into yet another cycle of warfare.

American policy-makers must realize that the risk of taking a tougher approach to Pakistan is less, in the long run, than the risk of continuing the status quo. Ten years of inaction have not paid off. More troops and money are not the answer; nor is continuing to hope that Islamabad’s episodic cooperation with the CIA in eliminating specific terrorists will blossom into a productive working relationship. The United States needs an overarching, long-term policy toward Pakistan that would focus geo-strategic and bilateral pressure on Pakistan’s military leaders to end the Afghan war and stop international terrorism emanating from Pakistan. America and the international community could then focus on helping Afghanistan to once again become a neutral crossroads for Eurasian commerce rather than a proxy battlefield for predatory neighbors.

Naomi Klein, author most recently of “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism”

In a September 2001 essay titled “ Game Over: The End of Warfare as Play ,” Klein noted that the United States had fought a series of wars in which it had experienced few casualties. “This is a country that has come to believe in the ultimate oxymoron: a safe war,” she wrote. The attacks of 9/11 would change that, she believed. “The illusion of war without casualties has been forever shattered.” Today, she’s not so sure.

I suppose it was wishful thinking. As I watched footage of New Yorkers fleeing from the attacks, their terrified faces covered in dust from the collapsing towers, I was overwhelmed by how different these images were from the people-free videogame wars that my friends and I had grown up watching on CNN. Now that we were finally getting an unsanitized look at what it meant to be attacked from the air, I was sure it would change our hearts forever.

But the Bush Administration was determined to tightly police what we saw of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, introducing “embedded” reporting, and banning photographs of returning caskets. They also let it be known that reporters who embedded themselves with local populations instead of with allied troops were acceptable military targets -- as attacks on Al Jazeera reporters in Afghanistan and Iraq made clear.

The wars being waged by our governments in our names are today more distant to us than ever before. . Some of the fighting is carried out by mercenaries, who die without so much as a mention in the papers. And drone attacks have ushered in something even more dangerous than the “safe war” -- the idea of “no touch” warfare. This sends a clear message to the civilians on the other side of our weapons that we consider our lives so much more valuable than theirs that we will no longer even bother showing up to kill them in person.

As we should have learned ten years ago, this is an extraordinarily dangerous message to send.

Doyle McManus, op-ed columnist

In March 2002, in a front page analysis piece titled “ U.S. Gets Back to Normal ,” McManus, then the paper’s Washington bureau chief, concluded that the news wasn’t how much the attacks had changed America, but how little.

“Six months after Sept. 11,” he wrote, “here’s what’s changed:

“The federal government, its budget and its public image. The focus of American foreign policy. Security measures at airports, seaports and border crossings. The nation’s sense of patriotism, cohesion and vulnerability. The lives of almost 1.4 million people in the armed services…. [and] the victims, their families and friends.

“Here’s what hasn’t changed much: Everything else.” Today, he says, that’s still mostly true.

Since Sept. 11, the federal government has continued to grow. Spending has mushroomed on war-fighting, intelligence-gathering and homeland security. Security measures at airports and seaports are even tighter than before – although the government promises we’ll be allowed to keep our shoes on some day.

But that hasn’t made us love the federal government more. In the frightened months after Sept. 11, polls found that Americans’ trust in the government’s ability to do the right thing soared; in the years since, that same measure has plummeted.

That’s largely because the issue that concerns Americans most is no longer terrorism, but economic stagnation – and the federal government hasn’t succeeded in overcoming that threat.

As for “the nation’s sense of patriotism [and] cohesion,” the patriotism is still there, but the cohesion we discovered in 2001 was evanescent. A divisive war in Iraq and a virtual civil war over fiscal policy quickly turned politics nasty again.

In 2002, I asked Harvard social scientist Robert D. Putnam if 9/11 could have a lasting positive effect on our sense of community, and he was skeptical – appropriately, as it turned out.

“After almost any crisis, calamity or natural disaster, there’s a sudden spike in community-mindedness, whether it’s an earthquake, a flood or a snowstorm in Buffalo,” he said. “But these spikes don’t last. Over time, the community feeling dissipates.”

The only exception, Putnam noted, was Pearl Harbor – because World War II called on every citizen to sacrifice. This time, only a few were called on; the rest of us were encouraged to go shopping.

The focus of American policy has shifted, too. Immediately after 9/11, it was stopping further terrorism; then it was managing the consequences of our Global War on Terror, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. But now the focus is broader – and, increasingly, economic. As the just-retired chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, often said, “The single biggest threat to our national security is our debt.”

The war on terror isn’t over, even though it’s no longer called by that name. There are still almost 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, almost 50,000 in Iraq. The real cost of those wars – more than 5000 killed in action, more than 45,000 injured – changed many lives irrevocably.

But for most Americans, the most striking fact remains not how much 9/11 changed, but how little.

Graham Allison is director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a former assistant secretary of Defense.

In November 2001, Allison wrote that “After Sept. 11, a nuclear terrorist attack can no longer be dismissed as an analyst’s fantasy. … As the international noose tightens around Al Qaeda’s neck, the group will become more desperate and audacious.” Ten years later, he says we have made some progress in keeping nuclear weapons out of terrorist groups’ hands.

On 9/11, 19 terrorists killed more Americans than the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. If the terrorists had been in possession of a nuclear weapon, the attack might have killed 300,000.

Post 9/11, President Bush, and now President Obama, have declared nuclear terrorism the biggest threat to American national security.

The United States has taken the lead in investing more than $10 billion and countless hours in securing and eliminating nuclear weapons and material worldwide. President Obama’s Nuclear Security Summit in 2010 focused exclusively on the threat. As a result of these efforts, thousands of weapons and material that could have produced thousands more weapons are better secured today than they were a decade ago. In Russia, which has the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear weapons and material, hundreds of sensitive sites have been secured; 17 countries have eliminated their weapons-usable material stockpiles entirely.

But to prevent a nuclear 9/11, all nuclear weapons and weapons-usable material everywhere must be secured to a “gold standard” — beyond the reach of terrorists or thieves.

On that agenda, much remains to be done. The ever-more fragile state of Pakistan has the world’s most rapidly expanding nuclear arsenal. North Korea today has enough material for about 10 nuclear bombs. And Iran now has enough low enriched uranium, if further processed, for four nuclear weapons. One of these weapons in the hands of terrorists could mean an “American Hiroshima”

The price of success in preventing a nuclear 9/11 remains eternal vigilance.

James Fallows is a national correspondent for the Atlantic and an author.

In September 2001, Fallows wrote in his essay “ Step One: Station a Marshal Outside Every Cockpit Door ” that: “There may not be a next time, as everything involving air travel becomes more constrained. The tightening of security, while necessary, almost certainly will have aspects of fighting the last war. We may spend years refining passenger-screening processes, only to have the next terrorist explosive arrive by barge.

… Any system careful enough to eliminate sophisticated terrorists also would be cumbersome enough to negate the speed advantage of traveling by air.”

I wish my fears had had turned out to be wholly unfounded. And when it comes to the specific scenario of bombs aboard barges, I’m glad to say that they have been, at least so far.

Unfortunately, there was a much broader challenge that many people, including me, foresaw from the very beginning of the push toward a sweeping emphasis on “homeland security” and the “global war on terror.” This was the risk that, in the name of “protecting” ourselves against future threats, we might ultimately give up, distort or sacrifice the values that made a free society most worth defending. I am sorry to say that this fear has largely been realized.

We can’t be sure of much when it comes to future acts of terrorism, but one certainty is that there will never be “another 9/11.” That attack depended for its shocking success on people not imagining that airliners would be used as large-scale urban bombs. Everyone in the world now understands that possibility, which is why a “9/11-style” attack simply cannot be pulled off again. If the passengers and crew on a plane did not stop future hijackers from flying a fuel-laden plane into a city, the Air Force would.

We also know that our reflexive response to threats has given tremendous leverage to any handful of people who conceive of a new means of attack. Because of one foiled shoe-bombing attempt, hundreds of millions of air passengers worldwide continue removing their shoes before boarding planes. Osama bin Laden’s associates spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on their attacks. America’s chosen response has cost the nation trillions of dollars in direct military and security expenditures, not to mention the other costs.

The long-standing truth about terrorism is that the worst damage it inflicts is not through the initial attack but rather through the self-defeating and extreme response it often evokes. It is past time for America to consider a security response that does more damage to potential attackers and less to ourselves.

Shireen T. Hunter is a visiting professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service .

In her September 2001 OpEd (“ Wake-Up Call for the Islamic World ”), Hunter argued that Muslims themselves have been the ones most adversely affected by the extremist ideas and groups that have sprung up amid them, “giving credence to the worst perceptions of Islam as a rigid, aggressive, reactionary and xenophobic creed.” She recommended that Muslim nations “stop using Islam as an instrument of foreign policy” and to “abandon outdated utopian and expansionist schemes.”

Unfortunately, in the intervening years, Muslim nations have continued this behavior. Thus, in their bids to expand their regional influence, countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan have stoked the fires of sectarianism in Iraq, Bahrain, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. Saudi Arabia has even resorted to manipulating sectarian divisions in Lebanon and Syria in its attempt to eliminate the Iranian influence. Meanwhile, Iran has continued to support its Shiite co-religionists in Lebanon.

The upshot of this situation is that in the Muslim world today, sectarian divisions and hatreds are even deeper. This seriously hampers the establishment of peace and even a modicum of stability, and dims the prospect of consensual politics. Instead, the manipulation of sectarian divides and rivalries for power and influence, notably between Iran and Saudi Arabia, has led to new tragedies such as that in Bahrain where the Shiite majority is being brutally repressed by the Sunni rulership.

Meanwhile, Al Qaeda Inc. branches have sprung up in Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere, and remain strong, despite the deaths of Osama bin Laden and other top leaders; the Taliban are resurgent in Afghanistan; and the ultra-conservative Salafists have developed strong footholds in Egypt, Tunisia and Jordan.

All this time, the needs and aspirations of the people have been ignored, leading them to revolt as we have seen during the “Arab spring.” Yet revolts and revolutions seldom lead to democracy. Generally they result in politics of revenge, chaos and eventually another form of dictatorship. Muslim countries have missed an opportunity.

Alexander Cockburn coedits the CounterPunch website and writes for the Nation and other publications.

“The lust for retaliation traditionally outstrips precision in identifying the actual assailant,” Cockburn wrote in September 2001 (“ The Next Casualty: Bill of Rights? ”). “The targets abroad will be all the usual suspects -- the Taliban or Saddam Hussein, who started off as creatures of U.S. intelligence. The target at home will be the Bill of Rights.”

It was maybe an hour after the north tower of the World Trade Center collapsed that I heard the first of a thousand pundits that day saying that America might soon have to sacrifice “some of those freedoms we have taken for granted.” They said this with grave relish, as though the Bill of Rights – the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution — was somehow responsible for the onslaught, and should join the rubble of the towers, carted off to New Jersey and exported to China for recycling into abutments for the Three Gorges Dam.

Of course it didn’t take 9/11 to give the Bill of Rights a battering. It is always under duress and erosion. Where there’s emergency, there’s opportunity for the enemies of freedom. The Patriot Act, passed in October 2001 and periodically renewed in most of its essentials in the Bush and Obama years, kicked new holes in at least six of our Bill of Rights protections.

The government can search and seize citizens’ papers and effects without probable cause, spy on their electronic communications, and has, amid ongoing court battles on the issue, eavesdropped on their conversations without a warrant. Goodbye to the right to a speedy public trial with assistance of counsel. Welcome indefinite incarceration without charges, denial of the assistance of legal counsel and of the right to confront witnesses or even have a trial. Until beaten back by the courts, the Patriot Act gave a sound whack at the 1st Amendment, too, since the government could now prosecute librarians or keepers of any records if they told anyone the government had subpoenaed information related to a terror investigation.

Let’s not forget that a suspect may be in no position to do any confronting or waiting for trial since American citizens deemed a threat to their country can be extrajudicially and summarily executed by order of the president, with the reasons for the order shielded from the light of day as “state secrets”. That takes us back to the bills of attainder the Framers expressly banned in Article One of the U.S. Constitution, about as far from the Bill of Rights as you can get. We can thank the War on Terror, launched after 9/11, for it.

Jonathan Turley is a law professor at George Washington University.

In his September 13 Op Ed (“ Cries of “war” stumble over the law ”), Turley warned against the government seeking “greater flexibility” in responding to terrorists by treating criminal attacks “as a matter of war.” “Our system,” he wrote, “requires that legal means be used to achieve legal ends. We decide those means and ends within the general confines of the Constitution.” How has the founding document fared?

As the smoke was still rising from the Pentagon and World Trade Center, it became quickly evident that some of the greatest damage from the September 11th attacks would not come from without but from within our nation.

There was an almost immediate effort by Bush officials to change the definition of war. Rather than declare war on Afghanistan (where Bin Laden was sheltered), President George W. Bush wanted to declare war on terrorism. It was no rhetorical triviality. Bush decided to invoke the heightened constitutional powers of a wartime president by declaring war on what was a category of crime. Because there could never be a total, final defeat of terrorism, this “war” would become permanent – as would the heightened powers of the president.

Ten years later, the country remains “at war,” with President Barack Obama expanding many of the national security powers of his predecessor and, in the Libyan war, claiming his own re-definition of war: “a time-limited, scope-limited military action.”

Of course, the ominous signs in 2001 were realized in a myriad of other ways, from the establishment of the first American torture program to the widespread use of targeted assassinations, including operations killing American citizens. Ironically, I wrote then of the possibility of a new law that could govern the use of assassination, one that would deny a president unilateral authority to kill individuals and would reduce the need to invoke war powers. Instead, the Bush administration claimed full wartime authority as well as radically expanding the use of assassination as an unchecked presidential power. The claim of unilateral presidential authority to kill even United States citizens has been embraced by Obama.

What ultimately fell on that terrible day proved to be some of our most important constitutional structures. Tragically, it is a degree of damage that cannot be claimed by Al Qaeda alone.

Laila Al-Marayati, Los Angeles physician

In a January 2002 essay titled “ An Identity Reduced to a Burka ,” Al-Marayati wrote: “It should be obvious that the critical element Muslim women need is freedom, especially the freedom to make choices that enable them to be independent agents of positive change.”

After the tragic events of 9/11, there were some genuine attempts to improve understanding and awareness between peoples. But that good will has given way in recent years to increased anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S. and around the world, prejudices that were reflected in a recent Gallup poll. Muslim women who choose to wear hijab take the brunt of the hostility. They are subject to verbal assault and to misdirected legal actions such as in the ban on the headscarf imposed in France. For centuries, Muslim women have been in the crosshairs of the supposed conflict between Islam and the West. Shortly before the invasion of Afghanistan, we saw images, almost daily, of burqa-clad women who had been suffering under the Taliban. But what most people forget is that they were suffering long before 9/11 and that they continue to experience hardship today in most parts of the country. In 2001, their plight was exploited for political expediency, to help drum up support among freedom-loving Americans for a war that has yet to make life better for the common Afghan woman. Over the past decade, Muslim women around the world have continued to demand their rights and claim their position alongside their Muslim brothers by advocating for changes in legal systems that discriminate against them, by educating their daughters, and by challenging harmful traditions that have no basis in Islam. Many of them are now engaged in the struggle of their lives to achieve the kind of freedom that Muslims living in the U.S. appreciate. It is too soon to predict the outcome, but we should have no doubt that women will be at the forefront of positive change. We should support their efforts, not for political expediency, but because it is the right thing to do.

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The legacy of 9/11: reflections on a global tragedy.

Symbolic illustration of the World Trade Center towers.

(Illustration by Michael S. Helfenbein)

Twenty years after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the tragic consequences of that day continue to resonate across the world. On this somber anniversary, members of the Yale faculty reflect on the painful and complicated legacy of 9/11 and how the trauma of the event, which for a time created unity in the United States, has in the decades since led to a more divided nation and dangerous world.

Trauma, solidarity, and division

By Jeffrey Alexander Lillian Chavenson Saden Professor of Sociology, Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Societies shift between experiences of division and moments of solidarity. It is collective trauma that often triggers such shifts.

When Osama Bin Laden organized acts of horrific mass murder against civilians on September 11, 2001, he declared that “the values of this Western civilization under the leadership of America have been destroyed” because “those awesome symbolic towers that speak of liberty, human rights, and humanity have… gone up in smoke.” What happened, instead, was that Americans recast the fearful destruction as an ennobling narrative that revealed not weakness, but the strength of the nation’s democratic core.

Before 9/11, American had been experiencing a moment of severe political and cultural division. In its immediate aftermath, the national community was united by feeling, marked by the loving kindness displayed among persons who once had been friends, and by the civility and solicitude among those who once had been strangers …

Read more from Jeffrey Alexander

No clean break

By Joanne Meyerowitz Arthur Unobskey Professor of History and professor of American studies, Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, historians pointed to precedents: the surprise bombing of Pearl Harbor, say, and terrorist attacks — domestic and foreign — that had targeted civilians. They soon moved on to warnings against unnecessary and prolonged wars, with frequent reference to Vietnam, and to placing the security state within the long history of domestic surveillance, racial profiling, and violations of civil liberties. The common thread was that Sept. 11 did not represent a clean break with the past. It was not “one of those moments,” as The New York Times had claimed, “in which history splits” in two …

Read more from Joanne Meyerowitz

An embrace of profiling

By Zareena Grewal Associate professor American studies; ethnicity, race, and migration; and religious studies, Faculty of Arts and Sciences

In 2001, the New York City Police Department established a secret surveillance program that mapped and monitored American Muslims’ lives throughout New York City, and in neighboring states, including Connecticut. In 2011, journalists leaked internal NYPD documents which led to an outcry from public officials, activists, and American Muslim leaders who protested that such racial and religious profiling was not only an example of ineffective policing and wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars, but it collectively criminalized American Muslims. The leaked documents revealed that Yale’s Muslim Students Association was among the campus chapters targeted …

Read more from Zareena Grewal

A new outlet

By Paul Bracken Professor emeritus of management and political science, Yale School of Management

Following the Cold War, the U.S. foreign policy establishment was spoiling for another fight to overthrow tyranny. Yet there was no domestic support for such a war. Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait led to the first Gulf War. But the failure to end his regime left a good part of the establishment with a sense of unfulfilled destiny. These were the trends underway before 9/11. But there was no outlet to give them voice.

By linking a war on terror with a projection of our idea of democracy onto the Middle East, the attack on 9/11 provided that outlet …

Read more from Paul Bracken

A war game, gone terribly wrong

By Kishwar Rizvi Professor in the history of art, Faculty of Arts and Sciences

September 11, 2001, is a Tuesday. At 8:46 a.m. and 9:03 a.m., two hijacked planes fly into the towers of the World Trade Center. Six hours later, I give my first class of the year, in Street Hall. It is unclear how the afternoon will unfold, but as the class gathers, we find comfort in each other’s presence.

The unconditional empathy and bravery shown by my students that day 20 years ago is something I carry with me. It is a necessary requirement for studying and teaching about Islam today. Art and architecture, framed through social and political discourse, serve as important conduits for understanding the history and culture of the West and South Asia — the epicenter of the “War on Terror” launched soon after 9/11. I find clarity in the work of Shahzia Sikander and Lida Abdul, women artists from the region …

Read more from Kishwar Rizvi

For millions of refugees, the crisis continues

By Marcia C. Inhorn William K. Lanman, Jr. Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs; chair, Council on Middle East Studies

September 11 was a devastating event for the United States, causing the senseless deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans and the injury of more than 6,000 others. September 11 was also a tragedy for the Middle East, as the U.S. responded by initiating two wars, one in Afghanistan in 2001 and one in Iraq in 2003. These long-term and costly wars in the Middle Eastern region have killed thousands of innocent civilians and displaced millions of people.

Of the 26 million refugees and 80 million forcibly displaced people in the world today, the majority are from the Middle East, especially Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Indeed, we are now in the midst of an Afghan refugee crisis, the magnitude of which is yet to unfold …

Read more from Marcia C. Inhorn

The loss of history

By Eckart Frahm Professor of Near Eastern languages & civilizations, Faculty of Arts and Sciences

The events of 9/11 have led to actions on the part of the U.S. that have thoroughly transformed the Middle East. Unfortunately, despite an enormous investment of lives and money, the region remains deeply troubled. The world’s attention has been focused, for good reasons, on the political and humanitarian catastrophes that have befallen it. But for someone like me who is studying the civilizations of the ancient Near East, a particularly devastating aspect of the crisis has been its disastrous effect on the region’s cultural heritage …

Read more from Eckart Frahm

Tragedy for the world

By Samuel Moyn Henry R. Luce Professor of Jurisprudence and professor of history, Yale Law School

September 11 was a tragedy for America, but it prompted an American response that has been a tragedy for the world. After two decades of war, every place American force has touched has been made worse, with the risk of terrorism often exacerbated, and at the price of millions of lives and trillions of dollars.

More than this, even though Joe Biden has followed his two predecessors in withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, the authorities the American president has arrogated over two decades to send force abroad have not been reined in. Nor does the war on terror — as distinct from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that started it — seem likely to end in the foreseeable future …

Read more from Samuel Moyn

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Lesson Plan

Sept. 10, 2023, 7:45 p.m.

Lesson plan: 9/11 — Ways to reflect on the day’s legacy

The moon rises between the "Tribute in Light" illuminated next to One World Trade Center during 911 anniversary, as seen from Jersey City, New Jersey

September 11th will remain a day that shaped the course of the nation’s — and the world’s — history. Students in high school and middle school who were not yet born on September 11, 2001, have still grown up in a cultural and political environment that owes much to the actions of the United States in response to 9/11.

The purpose of this lesson is to invite participants to generate and share their own questions about both the day of 9/11 and the larger context of the response that followed, including the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan that is just now ending after two decades.

You can see more stories from the NewsHour examining how this recent history has shaped the nation and the world. These NewsHour pieces will become optional components of the lesson.

Click here for a series of slides that can supplement this lesson (note: you will be prompted to make a copy).

  • Understand the history and impact of the 9/11 attacks
  • Construct critical questions around the anniversary of 9/11 and its present-day context
  • Evaluate & reflect on personal understanding of 9/11 through critical questions

Grade Levels

Supplemental links.

  • GOOGLE DOC VERSION
  • SUPPLEMENTAL SLIDES

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.1: Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.2: Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.7: Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.9: Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.

Original lesson appeared Sept. 11, 2021.

Twin Towers September 11th 9/11

Sun setting behind Twin Towers. (Photo by Robert Pirillo/Ovoworks/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images) For a Google version of this lesson click here . A note on teaching hard history: Most educators can recall exactly where they were and what they were doing when 9/11 unfolded. Today’s generation of students does not share this collective memory, with today’s high school seniors being born a few years after 2001.

Teaching 9/11 on its anniversary has its merits, as does teaching 9/11 within the curricular context of American and global history. We encourage educators to explore the wealth of resources provided in this lesson plan, to examine their own unanswered questions and biases, and to reflect on pedagogical practice before bringing in traumatic and provocative images of 9/11. Check out “Trauma-Informed Teaching Strategies” and consider how you might design lessons that engage with hard history with a trauma-informed lens. Read Learning for Justice's article “Debunking Stereotypes About Muslims and Islam” and incorporate media literacy education as you confront misinformation.

In addition, consider doing the following:

  • Preview your expectations or reminding your class about norms
  • Name clearly the topics; create time for participants to reflect and process
  • Teach with a trauma-informed lens
  • Consider the emotional response of your participants and yourself

Warm up activities (5-10 mins):

Note for instructors: Whether you’re teaching about 9/11 on the anniversary of the attacks or as a part of your broader curriculum, starting with the questions participants have can set up an anchor and circular flow (returning to those questions to close out or build upon them in the end). Remind participants to be and stay curious and to practice the skill of writing and developing strong questions.

  • Generate: Participants write as many questions as they can about the September 11 attacks — without stopping to revise, edit, evaluate or answer their questions.
  • Reflect: Then, participants circle or mark their three most important questions — and briefly reflect on why they selected these three.
  • Turn & Talk: Participants turn and share their three questions, noting what may overlap or be different, and have partners share out questions to gauge what participants are curious about. This is also an opportunity to note any misinformation or incorrect assumptions participants may have to clarify & revisit. Read “Debunking Stereotypes About Muslims and Islam” by Learning for Justice to learn more.

Main activities (30-45 mins)

Directions: Choose one or more activity best suited to your class based on the many factors your role as a teacher requires you to know.

  • Watch the 9/11 Memorial Museum’s short film (3 minutes): This video outlines the events on the morning of 9/11. As participants listen, instruct them to watch for any answers to the questions they just constructed. CONTENT WARNING : This video contains images of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon after they are hit.
  • Optional: Take a detour into a robust timeline of the 9/11 attacks using this interactive guide at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum and pair it with this “Historical Timeline of Afghanistan” from PBS NewsHour . Focus on context-building, asking participants to investigate questions, connections and narratives they see represented.
  • Clarify and reflect (5-10 mins): Turning to talk with their partners again (or return to their notebook to write), what did participants notice about the short clip or (timelines) that answered some of their questions?
  • Together with their partner, what new questions can they create? Note: If a participant replies with “I don’t have any questions,” encourage them to practice the skill of questioning and examining what they think, why they think it and what they wonder. Encourage curiosity.
  • Share this infographic with participants. After reviewing, ask participants: What surprises them? Does anything connect to the questions they crafted?

9/11 school essay

via slideshow -- see link at top of lesson

via slideshow — see link at top of lesson

  • Ask participants: What stories do these numbers tell? What stories don’t these numbers tell? (Can invite participants to update their list of questions here, pushing into open-ended questions vs. closed questions.)
  • Watch The 9/11 Memorial & Museum has a trailer (3 minutes) for one of their programs featuring some personal connections individuals have to 9/11.
  • What did you notice, what surprised you, or what do you now wonder after hearing from some individuals who have a personal connection to that day?
  • Now that you’ve reviewed or learned some of the historical context of 9/11, what do you know or wonder about the legacy of 9/11? What impact has the 9/11 terrorist attacks had on the United States? Other countries? Ordinary and everyday people in the United States?
  • Turn & talk: Have participants share some of their ideas, questions and reflections with their partner.
  • Whole group: Invite participants to share any ideas, encourage questions and discuss together.

Part 3 (Choose one or more of the following activities)

Each night this week, PBS NewsHour features stories that examine some of the ways 9/11 transformed the nation and world. Choose one or more of the following available stories to discuss.

  • What do you notice?
  • What do you wonder?
  • Does your community share anything in common with the communities of the speakers? How so?
  • How does (or did) 9/11 impact different communities? How so?
  • What other connections or questions can you craft?
  • NewsHour's Amna Nawaz says: “20 years later, there is now an entire generation of young American adults, including American Muslims, who don’t have firsthand memories of [9/11], who did not live through the trauma, as all of us did.”
  • How do you think the impact of 9/11 varies from generation to generation? What similarities or differences do you notice among your generation versus your parent’s generation? And older generations?

  • What are some of the ways these students' lives have been directly impacted by the legacy of 9/11?
  • What are some ways these students sees their generation's experience as different from past generations?
  • What is Middletown’s connection to the 9/11 attacks?
  • What were the different perspectives shared on how families coped with the loss of loved ones in the attacks?
  • How does this feature story expand or inform what you already know about 9/11?
  • Why is it important to understand the emotional reaction of U.S. citizens on the day of 9/11, according to Graff?
  • What is the connection that Graff makes between 9/11 and political polarization?
  • What do you think Graff means when he says 9/11 is slipping “from memory into history”? What are your first memories of learning about 9/11 or understanding the day’s events and legacy?
  • As a generation, what has shaped your view and understanding of 9/11? How so? How might this differ from other generations or communities?
  • What perspectives and narratives are you seeing and hearing surrounding the 20th anniversary of 9/11?
  • How do you think the legacy of 9/11 will continue to evolve?
  • Whose stories are being told? Is anyone’s voice missing?

Closing (10-15 mins)

Circle back to warm up questions for clarifying and answering the unanswered questions. (Could be collected as an exit ticket or final turn and talk.)

  • Look back over the questions you created at the start of class.
  • What’s one question that has been answered today?
  • What’s a new question you have or are thinking about? What’s left unanswered for you? What are you wondering about?
  • What’s the impact of 9/11 on your generation? What do you predict will be the legacy of 9/11 for future generations?

Extension activities

Extension 1, Poetry Focus: Days before 9/11, poet Lucille Clifton welcomed a granddaughter into the world and remembers eating lunch on the day itself as she “watched on television the devastation of the Twin Towers.” In her poem “September’s Song: A Poem in Seven Days,” she examines “love and continuing and fear and hope.”

Share this excerpt of Tuesday and Sunday from the longer poem with students , reading aloud together or ask participants to annotate a copy of the poem (or digitally with a partner using this Google Doc). [Note: September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday]

Write in response:

  • Ask participants to write their own day poem connecting to the themes of hope and fear, of love and continuing, mimicking some of Clifton’s style.
  • Do not require participants to write specifically about 9/11. Instead leave the invitation open for them to write about what they choose.
  • Or invite participants to identify vivid imagery, metaphors or symbols in the poem.
  • Compare Clifton’s poem with excerpts from “ With Their Eyes: September 11th — The View From A High School at Ground Zero. ” What word choice evokes an emotional response in the reader? How does the physical structure of the poems impact the way it is read aloud? As writers, what writing moves might participants employ in their own writing?

Extension 2 : Just over a year ago, more than 123,000 Afghan refugees, many fearing for their lives, were evacuated from Afghanistan and were resettled all over the world, including the United States. Thousands of Afghans did not make it out of the country before the U.S. military's departure on Aug. 30. Explore who, what, when, where and how of the refugees arriving in the U.S., and what local community organizations are still working to provide assistance. Read this NewsHour article for more information.

  • Inquire: What do trustworthy and credible charities and organizations look like?
  • Explore: What is being done locally in your area or state?
  • Understand: What don’t you know? What questions do you have?
  • Apply: How could your class, school, or community support and welcome refugees?
  • What are the latest updates as to the Afghan refugees welfare and status in the U.S. and around the world?

Evacuation from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul

U.S. Air Force loadmasters and pilots assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, load passengers aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III in support of the Afghanistan evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 24, 2021. Picture taken August 24, 2021. U.S. Air Force/Master Sgt. Donald R. Allen/Handout via REUTERS

Kate Stevens, M.S. in Curriculum & Instruction, is an instructional coach and educator with more than a decade of experience in online, hybrid, and blended learning. In 2015, Kate was honored with Colorado Department of Education’s Online & Blended Teacher of the Year. Connect with Kate on Twitter @KateTeaching.

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Lesson plan: After helping Pilgrims, today's Wampanoag tribe fight for their ancestral lands

Examine current issues facing the Wampanoag people, the descendants of the Native American tribes who welcomed and helped the Pilgrims

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Lesson plan: Investigating prison abuse inside the state system

Investigate treatment of prisoners in New York prisons as well as ways to prevent abuse

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Learn about government shutdowns and discuss the best way to end or prevent them

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  1. 10 Ways to Teach About 9/11 With The New York Times

    In the essay " What Does It Mean to 'Never Forget'? ," Dan Barry writes: Inevitably, someday there will be no one alive with a personal narrative of Sept. 11. Inevitably, the emotional impact...

  2. On 9/11, they were at school. Here's what happened inside ...

    U.S. President George W. Bush (center) makes a telephone call as White House Director of Communications Dan Bartlett points to video footage of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center from...

  3. 9/11 Essay • Examples of Thesis Statement, Topics Ideas

    Essays on 9/11 Essay examples Essay topics General Overview 33 essay samples found 1 Hunter S. Thompson and 9/11: Predictions and Reflections 2 pages / 731 words Hunter S. Thompson, the enigmatic and unconventional American journalist and writer, left behind a body of work that resonates deeply in the post-9/11 world.

  4. How American Kids Are Learning About 9/11 in School

    O n the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Lauren Hetrick was a 16-year-old sophomore at Hershey High School in Hershey, Pa. Her French class was just about to start when a strange announcement came...

  5. What schools teach about 9/11 and the war on terror

    What we have found is a relatively consistent narrative that focuses on 9/11 as an unprecedented and shocking attack, the heroism of the firefighters and other first responders and a global...

  6. Two Decades Later, the Enduring Legacy of 9/11

    A review of U.S. public opinion in the two decades since 9/11 reveals how a badly shaken nation came together, briefly, in a spirit of sadness and patriotism; how the public initially rallied behind the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, though support waned over time; and how Americans viewed the threat of terrorism at home and the steps the governm...

  7. 9-11: Looking Back...Moving Forward

    Students from Stuyvesant High School, 4 blocks from Ground Zero, and from Sleepy Hollow Middle School and High School, 30 miles north of Manhattan in Tarrytown, New York, talk about what they saw ...

  8. On the 19th anniversary of 9/11, ask your students: How has the ...

    9/11 Fast Facts Sept. 11th marks the anniversary of the attacks when terrorist-piloted planes hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and crashed into a field in Somerset County, Penn. Each...

  9. Opinion

    The World 9/11 Took From Us. I'm still mourning the life I lived before I learned that I was different. Sept. 11, 2019. Visiting the 9/11 Memorial on Tuesday, the day before the 18th anniversary ...

  10. Students Reflect on 9/11 in Essay Contest

    The second annual September 11th remembrance essay contest, which is open to Palm Beach Gardens residents and the dependents of city employees, requests that students in grades nine to 12 "reflect on how the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 affected our nation and the future of the world."

  11. Teaching 9/11

    Through storytelling, reflective essays, poems, and background facts, students can use The Change Agent to learn about the history of 9/11, wrestle with important legal and moral questions related to security and liberty, and examine the "rule of law" in the context of terrorism. ... We have taught about 9/11 in our elementary school, with ...

  12. Teaching 9/11

    9/11 impacted how Americans interact with the world as much as new technologies have over the last decade. The 10th anniversary is a day for US teachers and students to reflect upon how they can learn with the world, not just about it. George August 29, 2011 · 7:53 pm.

  13. Remembering September 11

    On September 11, 2001, people in New York City woke up to a beautiful late summer day. It was a Tuesday, and people were preparing for another day at work and school. Thousands of people...

  14. How to Help Your Students Observe the 9/11 Anniversary

    Write to Learn Rethinking Schools produced an award-winning special report in the aftermath of 9/11 called War, Terrorism and Our Classrooms. The contents continue to offer a rich repository of writing prompts and teaching strategies.

  15. Lesson Plans

    Lesson plan Search Lesson Plans Grade Level Filter Theme Filter Targeting American Symbols Essential Question: Why were the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and U.S. Capitol targeted on 9/11? Grades: 6 to 12 Theme: Antecedents of 9/11 Lesson plan Counterterrorism after 9/11

  16. Photo Essay: Remembering 9/11 at Duke

    Photo Essay: Remembering 9/11 at Duke. Jill McWhirter, who was visiting Duke to watch her daughter's soccer game, joined the Duke vigil Saturday morning. Jared Lazarus. At the very moment that two decades before the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center at the start of the 9/11 attacks, faith leaders from across the campus led a ...

  17. Essay on 9/11

    Download September 11th, 2001 would be remembered as the worst tragedy to ever happen to the United States. On the morning of 9/11, four planes would be hijacked in hopes of crippling the American economy. Two of the four planes would then crash into the World Trade Center in New York City leaving the twin towers destroyed.

  18. Shock, insecurity and endless war: How 9/11 changed America and the

    That sort of presumption was effectively destroyed by 9/11 — and it hasn't come back.". Even as Americans grappled with trauma and anger at home, the attacks cleared the way for a foreign policy based on the belief that the United States can "transform foreign societies in its own self-image," said UC Berkeley historian Daniel Sargent.

  19. Essays revisited: Reflecting on 9/11

    Essays revisited: Reflecting on 9/11. L.A. Times Archives. Sept. 11, 2011 12 AM PT. In the days and weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, the Times ran dozens of analysis and opinion pieces examining how ...

  20. September 11 attacks

    September 11 attacks, series of airline hijackings and suicide attacks committed in 2001 by 19 militants associated with Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda against targets in the United States, the deadliest terrorist attacks on U.S. soil in U.S. history. Over 3,000 people died in the attacks and rescue efforts.

  21. 9/11 Attacks Essay

    9/11 Attacks Essay Sort By: Page 1 of 50 - About 500 essays The 9 11 Attack : The Attacks Of 9 / 11 On September 11, 2001, the Islamic group, al-Qaeda, hijacked four airplanes and spreaded out against targets in the United States.

  22. The legacy of 9/11: Reflections on a global tragedy

    On Sept. 10, Yale Divinity School will commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11 with a memorial service. It begins at 11:30 a.m. in Marquand Chapel. On Sept. 11, the Harkness Tower carillon bells will toll four times to mark the events of that day: at 8:46 a.m. (the attack on the World Trade Center North Tower); 9:03 a.m. (World Trade Center South Tower); 9:37 a.m. (the crash of Flight 77 at ...

  23. Lesson plan: 9/11

    Sept. 10, 2023, 7:45 p.m. Lesson plan: 9/11 — Ways to reflect on the day's legacy The moon rises between the "Tribute in Light" illuminated next to One World Trade Center (L) during events...

  24. Punxsutawney students earn regional recognition through VFW's annual

    PUNXSUTAWNEY — Students from Punxsutawney Area High School submitted nearly 400 essays to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) patriotic essay contests this year, gaining both district and ...

  25. LUCAS' 2023 FAVORITES: Patriotic essay competitions

    Six students were recognized by Delta Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post as winners of the middle school and high school patriotic essay competitions on Feb. 4. Cedaredge High School student Amara Fancher proceeded to win at the state level and will therefore represent Colorado in the national contest in Washington, D.C.

  26. West Valley High School student wins essay contest, awarded Cadet of

    A West Valley High School Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps student won a local essay contest and was selected as the Fairbanks area JROTC Cadet of the Year.