Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Return to Normal

 I open my eyes and for a brief few seconds I forget why today is different.  Quickly, I remember how significant the Eleventh of September will always be and how for many, this will never be just a normal day.  As I prepare for the day I think ahead, realizing that for most of my 9th graders, this day is probably as normal as the next.  Eleven years ago they were only three.  Once among them in class I ask, as part of a journal entry, "How many of you would say September 11th has had a major impact on your life?"  Slowly, only about 3 hands raised.  We don't live in New York City, Washington, D.C., or Pennsylvania, but part of me was angry, part of me confused, but part of me completely understood.  Just as on that morning what we knew evolved and changed, so does our nation's memory of September 11th.

This generation of children sees the world with a different set of experiences than those of us tasked with teaching them.  September 11th to them is more of a historical event and less a personal memory. Not yet a mere historical marker on the side of the road, but in the decade passed we have moved forward in many ways.   At our school we take time to recognize and reflect on the significance of the day as a group with a ceremony.  We pause to gather on the breezeway with music, a moment of silence and the playing of taps.   It has become an event each year and for now we have no plans to change that.

Just as schools had to help kids make sense of unthinkable events on that day, they must navigate the passage of September 11th from a vivid recollection to something much less familiar.  We must teach students to think about events but not necessarily what to think about them.  We must help them develop an understanding of their world and how it is not static and changes with time.   While we gathered a colleague asked what I thought of the event, adding "I think this might be more for the teachers than the kids."  He may be correct.   It is conceivable that at some point most will no longer pause or think much at all and September 11th for those not personally affected will just be normal again.  This will never be true for countless Americans and others around the world, but for the young, it might already be so.  When that will happen and when it is "OK" to move on, I can't say.  Maybe no one should.  But as December 7th of '41, November 22nd of '63, April 19  of '95 and April 16  of '07, the healing begins and with it so does history's unending march forward.

Maybe then we will no longer gather as a community to reflect.   We will still have a wealth of media from which to share modern events with emerging generations and can use these to give meaning and context.  I will still ask the journal questions, will still share where I was that terrible day and still speak of my friend who died.  Maybe they were too young to understand or remember.  Maybe they won't even have been around.  But we must help them develop historical empathy for those who were there and all those who experienced it.  We should help them try to understand today.  Because it will always be a day that changed the world.  We should never forget that it will never quite be normal.  

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