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9/11: Teachers tackle dark day in history

By Davin White

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Carma Peters' students at South Charleston High School were 7 or 8 years old on Sept. 11, 2001, the day terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"Their recollection of it was not very clear," said Peters, chairwoman of the school's history department.

She and other local high school history and civics teachers are preparing to reflect on the terrorist attacks of that day in the classroom. 

Teachers plan to explore the political and global ramifications of events that followed the attacks, but also the range of emotions people felt in the wake of the day itself.

"It was such an emotional thing for us," said Paula Kerner, a civics teacher at Capital High School.

The school will have a commemoration ceremony today, and other schools have similar activities planned.     

Peters asked students in her class to interview three people who remember 9/11.

She wants her students to interview family members and neighbors who are at least 30, or old enough to vividly recall the day. "They really want to do a good job on it," she said.

She's excited about the interviews one student from Nigeria has gathered. He had planned to talk with his father and his uncle to gain a more foreign perspective. 

History teachers at South Charleston will show different films today about 9/11, and Peters' students have also created posters and collages about its impact. For instance, one or more posters might address the sacrifice of police, firefighters and other emergency responders.

Other local teachers recalled their students' views of Sept. 11.

Cecil Walker, a U.S. history teacher at Herbert Hoover High School, has noticed a change in perspective among his current students, who were only 6 or 7 on 9/11. In years past, his students recalled more of their own memories from the day.

But his students today reflect more on the perspective of others from 9/11, he believes. "They've heard people talk about it," Walker said.

Kerner agrees that current high school students have a different perspective on 9/11.

"I think they remember it from a child's point of view -- that the adults were very upset," she said. "They remember how their teachers reacted and how their parents reacted."

In class, Peters plans to talk to students about how the 9/11 hijackers hit the heart of American commerce, the heart of the U.S. military and then tried -- and failed -- to strike the "heart of our government."

"We try to treat it with a lot of respect and give them some background of what happened," Peters said.

She expects the question: Why'd they do that to America? She plans to address the U.S. role in the Middle East.

Kerner plans to talk about key players involved in the attacks and the aftermath -- such as al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and Afghan President Hamid Karzai -- to help spur discussion.     

Like in Peters' class, students at Capital will discuss the symbolic reasons why the World Trade Center towers were chosen as targets, Kerner said. That includes the financial aspects, as well as their sheer size and the way they identified with New York.

As a civics teacher, Kerner will emphasize the U.S. government's reaction to 9/11, and support for and against going to war with the Taliban-controlled government in Afghanistan. Her students will also discuss "people's perceptions as to whether or not Iraq had anything to do with it."

She'll highlight one surprising ABC News poll from earlier in the decade that found many people could not tell the difference between bin Laden and former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

At Herbert Hoover, Walker said 9/11 would usually come up in the curriculum late in the year. In his U.S. History class, students are learning about the Spanish-American War right now.

Still, he can use that 113-year-old history to tie in to 9/11.

After the USS Maine sunk in Havana's harbor -- the event that led to the Spanish-American War -- Americans wanted revenge.

"People were very angry at the time," Walker said.               

Reach Davin White at davinwhite@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1254.


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