Putting Emotion Back Into 9/11

For coming generations of students, September 11 is history rather than memory. How does that affect how they learn about it?
Twin Towers by Adam Maida

This fall marks the 21st year I will be teaching college students about the September 11 terrorist attacks. It used to be that 9/11 was a trauma shared by everyone. Now it is a day that no one in my classroom but me remembers.

Educating successive generations of teenagers about the intelligence failures that led to that day has been a strange and surprising journey. At first, I struggled to find ways to take the emotion out of my teaching—to bring logical reasoning, historical perspective, and careful analysis to a moment that seemed to defy all of those things. Now I struggle to put the emotion back in, helping students who weren’t yet born when al-Qaeda terrorists attacked our nation understand the visceral context and swirling uncertainties that intelligence officials and policy makers faced.


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