Remembering to ‘Never Forget:’ educating kids who are too young to remember 9/11

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It’s been 11 years since the nation watched in horror as a terror attack jolted Americans, old and young, into a stark and dismal new reality.

After September 11, 2001, we quickly adopted the mantra, “Never Forget,” but for thousands of young Americans born after or shortly before the attack, it’s safe to say they never knew – and some still don’t.

When asked about the attack, 12-year-old Helen Medina of South Boston said, “I don’t even know what 9/11 is,” but after hearing a few details, she made the connection: “Wait, is it when the Twin Towers fell? Osama bin Laden?”

Medina said said she knew thousands of people were killed, and that it was an act of terrorism.

“I was terrified. It was scary. I felt so bad for the people who were in there.”

However, she wasn’t recalling a lesson from the black board.

“I saw it on the internet… I saw it recently when I was 11. I saw it on YouTube,” she said.

That’s because Bay State public schools don’t include 9/11 in school curricula until the tenth grade, according to Robert Chisholm, director of social sciences for Boston Public Schools.

“Generally it is a topic of study primarily in the upper grades. State standards includes Sept. 11 as a U.S. History II course. In the lower grades it is not explicitly part of the curriculum,” he said.

Some education experts and Sept. 11 organizations believe, however, that kids who are too young to have experienced the attack should be more exposed to information about it.

“It’s pathetic what we do in terms of citizenship preparation,” said Patrick McQuillan, an associate professor at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education. “They’re getting very little exposure to issues linked to social studies and history, especially in the elementary grades.”

John Curtis, vice president of the Massachusetts 9/11 Fund board of directors, said that whether it’s in school, or outside the classroom, education is key if we want to ensure a future that truly never forgets.

“In my mind it wasn’t a tragedy. It was an attack, and it is important for future generations to recognize that these people attacked our homeland. I believe their goal was to kill Americans,” Curtis said. “It could happen again, and we need to understand that. We need to make sure that we remember, and stay alert and aware so we don’t get lackadaisical.”

Curtis said the Massachusetts 9/11 Fund is working toward putting together an educational program to keep youth informed.

“The goal is to try to make sure that not only young people today, but coming generations have an appreciation. Looking at the past ten years, the first thing we were focused on was trying to help family members… Now we’ve reached a point where we need to do something about education,” he said.

Meanwhile, some parents are taking the initiative.

Standing outside a South Boston elementary school, Thomas Murphy held his 8-year-old daughter Salma’s hand as she told Metro what she knew about 9/11.

“We talked about it, remember?” he said – and she did: “Planes crashed into big buildings. Bin Laden did it,” she said.

“And who was he?” Murphy asked.

“A terrorist,” his daughter replied.


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