As a 7-year-old in Arkansas, it wasn’t overwhelming sadness that Monica Wells felt on Sept. 11 and the days that followed. It was fear and shock.
“The fear of what’s going to happen next,” she said.
Wells is now a senior at West High, and for the first time she and her classmates are learning about the events and the motivations behind the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks in a school classroom.
Mike Patrick, one of the school’s history teachers, leads a course called modern world issues, a kind of current events/social studies class. The Sept. 11 attacks and the history of Osama bin Laden come up during the class’s terrorism unit.
“In this particular class, it’s incorporated as a study on terrorism as a reaction to cultural difference,” he said.
It’s a large, sprawling topic with lines of inquiry that reach out into multiple subjects — everything from Middle Eastern history to U.S. energy policy to Muslim attitudes toward women.
“If students can get the perception that there’s a lot of moving parts in an event deemed historically significant,” he said, then they’ve taken away from the class what he wants.
As second-graders when the attacks happened, many of the students said they reacted more to how the adults around them reacted, rather than to the attacks themselves.
“We were definitely at the stage of our lives where it wasn’t as big a deal as it would have been had we been seniors then,” said Gage McCann, a senior in Patrick’s class.
So they took their cues from the adults in their lives — their parents and their teachers.
The sharp and emotionally charged reactions they saw from the adults coupled with the images of destruction they watched on the television were genuinely frightening.
“It still brings chills,” said Nick Mielke, a senior in Patrick’s class. “I remember no stores being open. It was weird.”
The time spent on Sept. 11 in Patrick’s class is unique to the curriculum for the course. The general U.S. history classes in the district don’t cover it — even at a decade out, it’s still too recent.
SD2 last adopted new U.S. history textbooks in 2003, which means they were written and published in 2002. As such, they include no section on Sept. 11.
But that doesn’t mean the topic doesn’t come up in the classroom.
Gail Surwill, assistant superintendent over curriculum and instruction for the district, said many teachers — especially around this time of year — follow the lead of their students. If students come in with questions or concerns, the teachers will spend time talking about it and answering students.
She expects a lot of that will happen as students return to the classroom on Monday, the day following the 10th anniversary of the attacks.
The seniors in Patrick’s class hope the attacks of Sept. 11 will eventually become part of the regular U.S. history curriculum for those younger students who will have no memory of the day.
In fact, after touching on the subject in Patrick’s class, many said they wish they would have learned more about the attacks in other classes during their school career.
“I would have loved that,” Wells said.