Teaching 9/11 to the next generation

MILAN, Tenn. — With the 18th anniversary of 9/11 approaching, teachers are facing a problem — how to teach it to students who weren’t alive when it happened.

“You’ve got to take a new approach,” teacher Matt Dunagan said. “You can’t build on any background knowledge or prior knowledge. You’ve got to pretty much start with a clean slate and then build the foundation in class.”

Dunagan teaches fifth grade social studies at Milan Middle School. None of his 11- and 12-year-old students were alive when the nation was attacked on September 11, 2001.

“I’m learning how to get across the scope and the magnitude. We’ve talked about the American Revolution. We’ve talked about the War of 1812,” Dunagan said.

He says the challenge a lot of times of teaching 9/11 to fifth graders is bringing it out of the history books and into real life.

“I kind of tell them my story and tell them what I remember,” he said. “We had the TV carts and we were watching it the entire day, watching the events unfold.”

And he brings music into the classroom.

“I try to get them to understand the impact, and music is one of the ways. That’s why I introduce the song by Alan Jackson. Music helps us feel, gives us emotion. It ties us to that,” Dunagan said.

But he says the short amount of time he has in class will not do the day justice.

“Tell your children about it at home. They’re going to hear what I say in about 44 minutes, but have a conversation every time 9/11 rolls around is a good time,” he said.

We’ve compiled a list of articles to assist in teaching 9/11:

Understanding September 11 (Scholastic)

Teaching About 9/11 (National Education Association)

9/11 Memorial & Museum Lesson Plans

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