At the beginning of the month, I was lucky enough to participate in a workshop at the New York Historical Society (NYHS) on teaching about 9/11 called, Collections and Recollections. It was facilitated by Jon Fein, who has just finished a documentary called Objects and Memory. It follows NYHS staff through the collection and cataloging of objects from 9/11. He said it is due to air on PBS early 2008. He showed clips at the workshop.
I would have felt it was a shameless promotion of his movie, were it not for the thoughtful conversation. Clips from the movie were used but they were used to help structure the discussion rather than the other way around; being used to bring the conversation around the movie itself.
He began the workshop by presenting two identical looking bolts, one of which he said was from Ground Zero. He asked if knowing one of the bolts was from Ground Zero changed our perception of them. It did. The information made one bolt more readily accepted as an artifact, while the other remained common and disposable.
An article in a Colorado newspaper about teaching 9/11 started me wondering about how teachers in New York City were dealing with the incident. At the NYHS workshop, I learned that many teachers are told not to teach the event because some of their students may have lost family and friends on that day. 9/11 has not become history yet in the sense of it being something “past.” Its impact is still very immediate and painfully “present.”
As an educator, I feel it is necessary to teach about an event that forced such an incredible societal paradigm shift on what we accept as normal; from policemen patrolling in body armor and assault rifles to learning what we can take with us when we travel. However, personally, while I have been able to talk about 9/11, I haven’t liked thinking about it.
Until recently, the recitation of events is all I have ventured to do. I can tell you exactly how my morning started on the day off. I can even tell you what happened the night before. The day after is a blur but I will never forget the weekend after. I found out my wife was pregnant with our first son.
Maybe my recent desire to more deeply reflect on the events of 9/11 is because they (the news people) made such a big deal about it falling on a Tuesday this year. Tuesday is when it happened. With the exception of the first year, I have not taken the day off until this year. I told myself that I didn’t want to deal with the crowds and the chaos and the controversy of this year’s memorial service. It had been moved closer to the building where I work.
Or maybe the time has just come. My son is five now. Four more years and it will have been a decade from when the first tower fell. Maybe it is just that I am ready to reflect upon the event that so dramatically changed my world, despite the cheapening bickering between friends and family of those who died and the city and, in education, it is the bickering over which textbook version of the events and those leading up to it is most objective and factual.
In contrast to the NYHS workshop and my recent need to remember and reflect, I found this article in USA Today titled, “Is 9/11 Becoming Just Another Calendar Date?” The article explores the “fear of forgetting.”