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Teaching 9/11
September 9, 2011 9:09 AM   Subscribe

The Challenge of Teaching 9/11 "The events of September 11th are being discussed, taught, and commemorated in high school classrooms throughout the nation this week. And in many of those classrooms, the students are increasingly too young to have many actual memories of their own of that day’s events. I visited two high school classes in the San Francisco Bay Area to see how teachers are approaching the topic, what the students know and don’t know, and how they feel about the events surrounding that day."

‘Who’s Osama bin Laden?’: Teaching 9/11 to Muslim youth "In the ten years since Sept. 11, many Muslim Americans feel they’ve had to deal with rising discrimination. Those who remember 9/11 at least understand how this started. But there’s a new generation of Muslim Americans who don’t. They were too young in 2001, or they weren’t yet born. But these children aren’t too young to perceive discrimination. At least one local Islamic school is still working through how, exactly, to teach its young students about 9/11."
posted by nooneyouknow (84 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Young Afganis have never heard of 9/11
posted by The Whelk at 9:19 AM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Related: The Lessons - Around the world, the descriptions and messages of textbooks and curriculums vary widely. In the United States, details are fading away. (New York Times link, but it seems to not trigger any firewalls.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:22 AM on September 9, 2011


I used to teach 9/11 when I had a Modern History class. Our exploration usually began sometime around 1974.
posted by absalom at 9:28 AM on September 9, 2011 [15 favorites]


The events of September 11th are being discussed, taught, and commemorated in high school classrooms throughout the nation this week.

WHY? Ok, discussed I understand, but 9/11 doesn't need to be taught or commemorated at my kids' school. First of all "it's too soon" and we're still way too mired in the maudlin emotion of it all to teach it with any kind of objectivity. And it's being commemorated to death everywhere you look. My kids don't need it crammed down their throats at school too.
posted by headnsouth at 9:30 AM on September 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Young Afganis have never heard of 9/11

Yeah, well it's rough living in the most dangerous country in the world. You tend to focus on immediate local problems such as the 10,000 plus deaths of your fellow Afghan citizens since 2006.

Somehow, I doubt most young Americans have heard of this.
posted by philip-random at 9:30 AM on September 9, 2011 [40 favorites]


First of all "it's too soon" and we're still way too mired in the maudlin emotion of it all to teach it with any kind of objectivity.

The point of this article is that 9/11 was 10 years ago and most students were too young to remember it with any "maudlin emotion." When I was young, the Challenger crash was "too soon" for many teachers, but not one of my peers remembered it (I was 2 years old at the time).

History classes should give context to the news of the day. Teaching about 9/11 from a historical, rather than a cultural, perspective fulfills that function very clearly.
posted by muddgirl at 9:33 AM on September 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Well, whatever the American textbook narrative of this is, it'll probably be filtered through what the Texas school board wants to see.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:34 AM on September 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


The point of this article is that 9/11 was 10 years ago and most students were too young to remember it with any "maudlin emotion." When I was young, the Challenger crash was "too soon" for many teachers, but not one of my peers remembered it (I was 2 years old at the time).

My sister was born the month after the Challenger disaster, but she knows full well what happened. A schoolchild should know that Osama bin Laden did not fly the planes into the WTC.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:37 AM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


History classes should give context to the news of the day. Teaching about 9/11 from a historical, rather than a cultural, perspective fulfills that function very clearly.

One was a world (not U.S.) history class, the other was a "western religions" class. Both are the wrong place to "teach" 9/11 and they're certainly the wrong place to "commemorate" it.
posted by headnsouth at 9:38 AM on September 9, 2011


My sister was born the month after the Challenger disaster, but she knows full well what happened. A schoolchild should know that Osama bin Laden did not fly the planes into the WTC.

Your sister knows what happened in the Challenger disaster (presumably) because she was taught about it. Same goes for knowing what happen on 9/11, maybe the kids know, maybe they don't, but they should know, and the way to assure that is to teach them.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:46 AM on September 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


My son is seven. He has never known a time before 9/11. He has never lived in a country that wasn't at war.

My son's school is doing an art project to commemorate 9/11. They're building a giant flag out of strips of red and blue paper. The white stars and stripes are made of handprints in white paint.

I was volunteering at the school library yesterday and the art teacher decided to store some of the pieces of the flag in the library while they were making them and I sat next to the flag stripes for hours as the white paint handprints dried. It was hard. I was surprised by how much the sight of it made me want to cry.

It's going to be a beautiful flag, though. I'm really impressed with the art teacher. Such a simple idea, but with so much hurt and hope wrapped up in it together. All those little children's hands. E pluribus unum.

What sort of nation might those hands build together, someday? What sort of world? What sort of consensus? What sort of peace? We should teach children who weren't there what we can about that day, its antecedents and its aftermath, even if we're not sure how, even if it hurts us. They need to learn from our mistakes.
posted by BlueJae at 9:54 AM on September 9, 2011 [11 favorites]


The average person barely knows the story of Labor Day.
Why bother teaching anything about 9/11?

What would be more useful is a morning started by getting full of red, white, and blue icing cupcakes and soda pop while listening to Toby Keith (practically America's poet laureate),

followed by a field trip where every kid gets the full TSA treatment (down to the cavity check!)

and concluded with a Guantanamo mockup where each kid gets waterboarded for 10 minutes, followed by DNA submission and fingerprints uploaded onto a national anti-crime database.

I'm sure they'll get the lessons of 9/11 after that day!
posted by Renoroc at 10:08 AM on September 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


They need to learn from our mistakes.

They won't, because we won't teach them our mistakes. We'll teach them unquestioning patriotic bullshit that supports continued vengeance on the other.

Your son has never lived in a country that is not at war, but that war is being fought elsewhere. Your son (and mine) is affected by it only in the sense that it's crippling our economy, and that it makes for some cool action movies. The only things that will be taught about 9/11 is how much we were/are victimized by it. More American flags. Yeah, that'll teach 'em.
posted by headnsouth at 10:10 AM on September 9, 2011 [36 favorites]


Oh MAN I just tried to branch of a discussion of Spiegelman's Maus in a lit class of 18-19 year olds to 9/11 -- I found it interesting that Spiegelman uses the animals in Maus to depict people in a self-aware way that prods of the idea of reducing the Holocaust to a simple narrative or jumble of symbols.

And I was like, similarly, at our school to remember 9/11 we have a screensaver of the twin towers and a bald eagle head. Like, what the fuck is the eagle head doing there? Hello, national bird? And I was like, for me, the thing that represents 9/11 are all the pictures of people who'd died that were plastered everywhere. And the students were all like, "Uhhnnnhh?"
posted by angrycat at 10:11 AM on September 9, 2011


Young Afganis have never heard of 9/11

I suspect that the vast majority of Americans would have a hard time naming one act of terrorism in a foreign land. No judgement intended...people just tend to focus on what's happening in their own neck of the woods.
posted by JaredSeth at 10:16 AM on September 9, 2011


I suspect that the vast majority of Americans would have a hard time naming one act of terrorism in a foreign land.

Bad analogy. We've been fighting in Afghanistan for a decade.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:19 AM on September 9, 2011


And I was like, for me, the thing that represents 9/11 are all the pictures of people who'd died that were plastered everywhere. And the students were all like, "Uhhnnnhh?"

I was 17 when 9/11 happened, so I remember it quite well, but that image only reminds of me of 9/11 after it reminds me of BSG; I think this says something about images of 9/11, but a lot more about how good the first season of BSG was.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:22 AM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


My son is seven. He has never known a time before 9/11. He has never lived in a country that wasn't at war.

The US has consistently been at some stage of war/military conflicts for decades and decades, some obviously greater than others. I am 40 and can truthfully say the US has been involved in some military conflict since I was born. The latest iteration is only special in that it has lasted so long in such a specific place.
posted by edgeways at 10:34 AM on September 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


911
Fire in the skies
Many people died
And no one even really knows why
They tellin' lies of division and fear
We yelled and cried
No one listened for years
But like, "who put us here?"
And who's responsible?
Well, there's no debatin'
Cause if they ask me I say
It's big corporations
World trade organisation
Tri-lateral action
International sanctions, Satan
Seems like it'll be an endless price tag
Of wars tremendous
And most disturbingly
The death toll is so horrendous
So I send this to those
Who say they defend us
Send us into harm's way
We should all make a remembrance that
This is bigger than terrorism
Blood is blood is blood and um
Love is true vision
Who will listen?
How many songs it takes for you to see
You can bomb the world to pieces
You can't bomb it into peace
-Michael Franti
posted by edgeways at 10:36 AM on September 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Bad analogy. We've been fighting in Afghanistan for a decade.

I don't see where that's relevant.

My point is that if kids in the Western World, with all the benefits of the educational system and modern technology and not living in a war zone can't name an act of foreign terrorism, what makes you think poor, rural Afghani children, who have little to no access to television or the internet or newspapers, should be able to?

Hell, did you read the article? "42% of the population is under the age of 14, and 72% of adults are illiterate." That's not an environment that's going to produce well-informed people.
posted by JaredSeth at 10:37 AM on September 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I used to teach 9/11 when I had a Modern History class. Our exploration usually began sometime around 1974.

Yeah, I guess that is when the sociopathic, homicidal assholes who unilaterally perpetrated a mass murder would have been born, right?
posted by KokuRyu at 10:51 AM on September 9, 2011


Um....kokuryu, 1974 is when the Twin Towers were built, and more likely that's why absalom's starting then.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:55 AM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I guess that is when the sociopathic, homicidal assholes who unilaterally perpetrated a mass murder would have been born, right?

Talking about the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand isn't the same thing as justifying mustard gas. The point of teaching history is context, even those aspects that may be full-on whackadoodle. This desire to reduce all talk of terrorism to just pointing and yelling "murderer!" isn't productive for foreign policy or teaching history.
posted by phearlez at 10:58 AM on September 9, 2011 [10 favorites]



A schoolchild should know that Osama bin Laden did not fly the planes into the WTC.

Even if you do teach the facts, ten or fifteen years on, most kids will remember 'em jumbled together like this:
I remember it was the year I went to camp
I heard about some lady named Selma and some blacks
Somebody put their fingers in the President's ears
It wasn't too much later they came out with Johnson's wax

I remember the book depository
Where they crowned the king of Cuba

That's all I can think of, but I'm sure there's something else
Way down inside me I can feel it coming back. . .

Chinese people were fighting in the park
We tried to help them fight, no one appreciated that
Martin X was mad when they outlawed bell bottoms
Ten years later they were sharing the same cell

I shouted out, "Free the Expo '67". . .
There are 'educated' people of my acquaintance whose knowledge of recent history (although less entertaining) is no better order.
 
posted by Herodios at 11:02 AM on September 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


headnsouth, perhaps you and your child do not personally know any of the people who were sent off to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is not the case in my family.

My son goes to school with the children of soldiers. Good friends of mine from college and high school have served in these wars. Wars which, for the record, I strongly oppose and have protested, vocally, for years.

If you believe your child has not been affected by growing up in a nation where preemptive war is considered the acceptable status quo, I don't know what to tell you. If you believe your child has not been affected by growing up in a world where schools regularly have terrorism drills, I don't know what to tell you. If you believe your child has not been affected by growing up in a country where Muslims are systematically discriminated against on the basis of their religion, I don't know what to tell you.

If you believe your child has not been affected by living in a nation that has allowed its educational system, health care system and infrastructure to languish during decade of spending trillions of tax dollars on war instead, I don't know what to tell you, either.
posted by BlueJae at 11:08 AM on September 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Bluejae, if you think painting american flags = teaching about 9/11, I don't know what to tell you.
posted by headnsouth at 11:19 AM on September 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


He has never lived in a country that wasn't at war

If you were born in the United States after 1945, you haven't either. Our Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war, a responsibility they've avoided since 1941. Instead they acquiesce to the President's demands, sometimes after a day or two of hearings. After a time, the media call the result "war", but it isn't, not really. And Wars on Drugs, Poverty, Terrorism etc are not real wars either.
posted by Rash at 11:24 AM on September 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Guys, I don't think bluejae's flag metaphor was quite what you think it was. Don't forget, this was something contributed to by seven-year-olds, who aren't quite going to be able to wrap their brains around the political mess we've currently got going on. I mean, we also don't get into the troubled relations between the Puritains and the Pequots when we talk about Thanksgiving in your average 2nd grade class either; that comes later.

Second grade is for learning the ideals -- that "we believe everyone belongs." Whether or not we've held to that ideal is a matter for older kids. But I don't see what's wrong with fostering the idea that we at least ASPIRE to that kind of America.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:25 AM on September 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


Um....kokuryu, 1974 is when the Twin Towers were built, and more likely that's why absalom's starting then.

Either that or he's referencing the Chilean coup of 9/11/73.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:26 AM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I said "around 1974," because, yeah, that's about the time detente begins to unravel, leading to all these coups and Great Games in the Middle East and Latin America. Also, it's when the towers were completed so it makes a pretty good start point from a thematic point of view as well. When we begin to examine the straight causal chain, we usually started around 1978.

But, without understanding Cold War Power Politics, you can't understand CIA coups in general, and if you can't understand CIA coups, you're not going to understand why Carter secretly supports anti-Communists in Afghanistan, and if you don't understand the US secretly supporting anti-Communists in Afghanistan you don't understand why the Soviets invaded in the late 70s, if you don't understand that, you don't understand how the Mujahideen come to prominence. Without the understanding them, you can't understand where Bin Ladin comes from, nor can you understand Post Cold War blowbacks ... continue, link by link, until 9/11/2001.

Turns out history is complicated!
posted by absalom at 11:44 AM on September 9, 2011 [15 favorites]


Daoud Khan's coup in 1973 may also be a decent place to start. (Oh preview, absalom! absalom!)

The 'Young Afghans don't know 9/11!' seems pretty silly and disingenuous to me at first, but it works pretty well as an indictment of NATO/ISAF's effectiveness in communicating with Afghans.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:52 AM on September 9, 2011


...and that, class, is why 200,000 Iraqis had to die.
posted by ennui.bz at 11:56 AM on September 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


From the actual article:
Similarly, the 2005 “Magruder’s American Government,” describing the decision to invade Iraq, said: “In 2002, Congress agreed that President Bush should take whatever measures were ‘necessary and appropriate’ to eliminate the threat posed by Saddam Hussein and his Iraqi dictatorship. It was widely believed that that regime had amassed huge stores of chemical and biological weapons and was seeking to become a nuclear power — all in direct violation of the Gulf War’s cease-fire agreement.”

But the 2010 edition eliminated all mention of weapons of mass destruction.
This is truly appalling. The war was predicated on the existence of WMDs. How can you possibly teach the history of the Iraq War without referencing the WMDs and the subsequent failure to find them?

It's not even like I'm asking for a two-page spread of "BUSH LIED - THOUSANDS DIED." It is a straight-up fact, uncontroversial and undeniable, that the rationale offered to the public for the Iraq War was Saddam Hussein's alleged cache of WMDs. This is like writing about the American Civil War by saying, "and then for some reason or another, Americans started fighting in the 1860s."
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:56 AM on September 9, 2011 [13 favorites]


Also, absalom's point of entry for teaching 9/11 was already semi-parodied in The Onion, in their first issue after the 9/11 attacks.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:58 AM on September 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


A schoolchild should know that Osama bin Laden did not fly the planes into the WTC.

Yeah--It was Saddam Hussein.
posted by Obscure Reference at 12:01 PM on September 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


I hope he also covers the beginning of the CIA operations in Afghanistan in 1978, the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviets, their involvement with the Pakistani ISI in conducting and supplying a guerrilla war against the Soviets, the 1989 withdrawal of the Soviets, the subsequent payola and tacit acceptance to the warlords, and the US's effective policy of abandonment post-war instead of stability. We could talk Iran-Contra in wake of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, where once again we meddled until we got caught, and then we just cut diplomatic ties.

Want to know why a region of the world grew up hating the US? Because we helped them against our enemies, used them as pawns, and then ignored them and their needs of stability. We maintained environments of instability. The only things we secured were access to resources - people be damned.

And when our interests waned and our goals were achieved - we pulled the rug out.

In many respects, Bin Laden is like our leaders - he lied to the world... said it was about Israel, about our Bases in Saudi Arabia, and about sanctions against Iraq... Sure all those things are true - we do (still) provide support to israel, we (still) have bases in Saudi Arabia, and the sanctions in Iraq were there - but in reality... Our middle east policy has been and has always been - go in under the hospices of helping, fund a few people (including the 1980s OBL), take what we want, abuse the locals and then leave - leave it worse off.

I will give Bush Jr. one shred of credit, he did try to stick it out in Iraq for once... but really, he still left it off worse and did things in his own best interest - not in Iraq's.

Now look at us, we fear terror, we fear our neighbors, we fear someone for their skin color, for their religion, for their beard... We have spent a decade letting our leaders continue to fuck up a region. Yeah... anyways... I shouldn't be commenting on anything about this this weekend.
posted by Nanukthedog at 12:02 PM on September 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


I guess this is as good a 9/11 thread as any to post this in. Here is what I think is a thoughtful editorial about how 9/11 is currently being remembered and how it will likely change: One Day, We'll Commemorate 9/11 Like the Civil War—Heart-Felt, but Detached and Reflective. And I think, still some fightyness.

Oh, and one of my favorite Onion stories from 10 years ago: Not Knowing What Else to Do, Woman Bakes American Flag Cake.
posted by marxchivist at 12:10 PM on September 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


headnsouth, you have clearly misunderstood what moved me about that flag, and what I perceived its message to be, and I'm sorry that my writing was not more clear, but really, I think you brought a lot of assumptions to your interpretation of what I wrote.

I never said I thought making a flag is the same thing as teaching about 9/11. What I said was that I was moved by the idea this reinterpretation of the flag, in the context of a 9/11 commemoration, evoked, to me. EmpressCallipygos got my drift. I actually saw it as a subtly subversive image in the midst of all the 9/11 patriotic propaganda. Too often the flag has been waved as a symbol of a government divorced from its duty to protect the welfare of its citizens and ideals of its Constitution. I was happy to see a flag that reminds us that nations are made up of people. That the people who died on 9/11 were not symbols but individual people. That our strength as a country lies not in our military might but in our ability to come together as people.

What a flag made up of children's hands symbolizes to me what is best about how we would like to imagine this country -- the dream of many people, diverse in their backgrounds and beliefs, coming together in peace to make one unified nation. I am all too aware that this dream has never been achieved. But far better people than me have believed in it as a possibility and spent their lives working toward it, and I don't think they were all misguided idiots.

(By the way I would lay cash money on my seven-year-old up against any other seven-year-old in an American history test. Yes, he knows that the 9/11 hijackers did not come from Iraq. He also knows the branches of government, the Bill of Rights, and the reasons behind the American Revolution. He voluntarily spent an entire week of his summer vacation studying the Dred Scott case and its relation to the Civil War. I don't think he requires any concern from strangers on the internet regarding the quality of his history education, thanks.)
posted by BlueJae at 12:18 PM on September 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


Why teach about 9/11? I think the question is more like, "Will there be time at the end of the year to get all the way up to current events?"
My American history classes always started with 1492, and we rarely got further than the civil war. I would have loved to take a class that covered, say, WWII, the 1960s, etc.
posted by Coffeemate at 12:20 PM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Jesus, the Onion "Cake" article makes me tear up, even though I have read it several times since it appeared.
posted by everichon at 12:21 PM on September 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


My American history classes always started with 1492, and we rarely got further than the civil war.

This feature of American high school history courses always struck me as bizarre. Obviously all of history is important, but leaving a 150ish year gap isn't helpful.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:25 PM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


perhaps you and your child do not personally know any of the people who were sent off to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If you believe your child has not been affected by growing up in a nation where preemptive war is considered the acceptable status quo, I don't know what to tell you. If you believe your child has not been affected by growing up in a world where schools regularly have terrorism drills, I don't know what to tell you. If you believe your child has not been affected by growing up in a country where Muslims are systematically discriminated against on the basis of their religion, I don't know what to tell you.

If you believe your child has not been affected by living in a nation that has allowed its educational system, health care system and infrastructure to languish during decade of spending trillions of tax dollars on war instead, I don't know what to tell you, either.


I think you win the prize at "bringing a lot of assumptions." Rather than derail the thread even further, however, I will just say that my comments were not about your (obviously far above-average) child but about bringing 9/11 into classrooms where there is no objectivity whatsoever, and where raw emotion rules the day. Your own experience of being moved nearly to tears by an American flag painted by schoolchildren is evidence in support of my point.
posted by headnsouth at 12:31 PM on September 9, 2011


It's a fine line between not appreciating child's handprint flags and the harsh rule of Libria by the Tetragrammaton Council, as most famously depicted in the documentary Equilibrium.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:33 PM on September 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


This feature of American high school history courses always struck me as bizarre. Obviously all of history is important, but leaving a 150ish year gap isn't helpful.

Yeah, well, as you move forward it gets harder and harder to defend our actions as those of uncivilized people from another time.
posted by pjaust at 12:34 PM on September 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


High School history classes are notorious for never quite getting up to about 10-15 years before the present. They cover from the dawn of time to about 20 years ago, plus current events.

It's why I learned hardly anything about the Vietnam War or Watergate until I got to college, and why my Mom had never heard of the Berlin Airlift until she heard about it from me when I learned about it in high school.

I'm not sure I have a problem with that. I think most High School history classes would really struggle to teach well stuff that's still such a fresh part of the political football games.
posted by straight at 12:49 PM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


My American history classes always started with 1492, and we rarely got further than the civil war.

I graduated from high school in 1990. My required American history class only got as far as World War II. If you wanted to get to anything closer to the present day, you had to take a Modern American History elective.

Even if 9/11 isn't taught in the most ideal manner, the fact that an event only ten years ago is being taught at all is progress compared to when I was in high school.
posted by jonp72 at 12:56 PM on September 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I figure eventually 9/11 will end up being considered a holiday to honor firemen and cops and other first responders. It will supplant Labor Day as the end of the summer season, and there will be appliance sales at sears.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:04 PM on September 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


I figure eventually 9/11 will end up being considered a holiday to honor firemen and cops and other first responders. It will supplant Labor Day as the end of the summer season, and there will be appliance sales at sears.

I actually got an email from Office Depot today with a black-colored$10 off coupon and this message on top: "Sneak Peek The 9/11 Store Ad + A Chance to Win a 9/11 Anniversary 1:24 Diecast Signed by Tony Stewart!"
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:18 PM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


My speech professor had a short spiel on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 at the end of our last class. He mentioned how the terrorists attacked his family--the American people. And that we as a family take care of each other. All I could think of was "take care of each other? Bull-motherfucking-shit. Look at our health care system, or more accurately lack thereof."

The Bush Administration allowed 9/11 to happen. There was simply too much to lose by not having a modern "Pearl Harbor" type of event to justify the expansion of the national security state and military industrial complex. That's something we should never forget. How many students do you think are going to learn about that famous August 2001 "Bin Laden determined to strike US" memo?

I seriously want to be in a 24 hour coma on Sunday.
posted by MattMangels at 1:29 PM on September 9, 2011


Jesus, the Onion "Cake" article makes me tear up, even though I have read it several times since it appeared.

As far as I'm concerned the Onion's "God clarifies don't kill rule" will forever be the best response to any violence done in the name of religion. I think it's the Onion's finest moment and the only proof you ever need that humor can be a source of comfort and sublime commentary.
posted by phearlez at 1:34 PM on September 9, 2011 [10 favorites]


Cheney and Rumsfeld, like nation-destroying cicadas, have decided to emerge from their underground lairs to commemorate 10 years of war, credit card defense spending, and torture.
posted by benzenedream at 1:47 PM on September 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Some history teachers think that starting at the present and finding out how things ended up this way would be better. I do. Moving backwards through time...
posted by kozad at 1:49 PM on September 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


The sacralized myth of 9/11
posted by homunculus at 2:05 PM on September 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Some history teachers think that starting at the present and finding out how things ended up this way would be better. I do. Moving backwards through time...

Can you explain how exactly this would work, like in real practical terms? 'Cause that seems like nonsense to me.

"and so class, after the Cold War began, World War II happened"
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 2:07 PM on September 9, 2011


Another Onion favorite of mine was the brief appeal by the Dildo Manufacturers Association.
posted by homunculus at 2:09 PM on September 9, 2011


bulgaroktonos, it wouldn't be like "after the Cold War began, World War II happened."

It would be more like:

"....And so that's why the US funded the mujahadin in Afghanistan -- it was because the mujahadin were fighting the Soviets, and the US thought the Soviets getting sucked into a war was good Cold War Strategy. But wait, what was this 'Cold War', you may ask? Well, we have to go back to where THAT started...."

[class about cold war]

"....and so that was the Cold War. But wait! WHY were we in the United States so concerned about the Soviets coming to prominence? Were they always the bad guys? Actually no - but to find out more, we'll have to look at World War II..."

[class about World War II]

"...so the Soviets were actually allies on OUR side, AGAINST the Germans. But -- wait! How did Germany fall sway to such a dictator as Hitler? Well, to answer THAT, you'll have to look at the depression Germany suffered after World War One, and..."

[class about World War I]

"....but wait, why did so many nations get so caught up in those alliances like that, the kind that lead to World War I? Well, to look at THAT, we'll have to look at the impact of the decline of different monarchies, and the rise of nationalism..."

[etc.]
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:17 PM on September 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think saying that current events and recent history shouldn't be taught to kids because those subjects are often taught badly is a bit backwards. The problem isn't that knowing about those events is harmful to kids; the problem is that they are frequently framed badly. So the fight should be to get textbooks, etc, to frame things better, not to just cut out all references to any history that is younger than 50 years old. Ignorance of the immediate past doesn't do anyone any favors. It just makes it easier for people to misunderstand the present.
posted by colfax at 2:28 PM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cheney and Rumsfeld, like nation-destroying cicadas, have decided to emerge from their underground lairs to commemorate 10 years of war, credit card defense spending, and torture.

How Cheney is winning
posted by homunculus at 2:50 PM on September 9, 2011


Now look at us, we fear terror, we fear our neighbors...

What, Canada? I promise we're not a threat to you, guys. Just be careful with our beer, it's strong.
posted by Hoopo at 2:50 PM on September 9, 2011


I've heard of people teaching history that way, and I'm not going to declare it invalid or anything, but moving backwards in time doesn't appeal to my philosophical aesthetic. For starters, I think starting from some point in the far back past and moving forward provides a much better scaffolding for the students to really understand and see change over time develop, which I think gives a far longer term benefit than whatever is gained by starting where they are comfortable and moving backwards.

Secondly, I think that moving backwards paints an ultimately ahistorical picture of inevitability. I feel the backwards chronology method implicitly makes history about outcomes instead of individuals and choices, which is an invisible narrative of inevitability over free will.
posted by absalom at 2:56 PM on September 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's not even like I'm asking for a two-page spread of "BUSH LIED - THOUSANDS DIED." It is a straight-up fact, uncontroversial and undeniable, that the rationale offered to the public for the Iraq War was Saddam Hussein's alleged cache of WMDs. This is like writing about the American Civil War by saying, "and then for some reason or another, Americans started fighting in the 1860s."

The rationale was that was offered was that Saddam would give those WMDs to terrorists, because he had something to do with 9/11. (Take a look at this poll, almost exactly 8 years old, saying that 70% of Americans believed Saddam was personally involved in 9/11.) It started with Cheney passing off bad intelligence on national television about secret meetings in Prague, and ended with Rice saying "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."

I don't hope they all burn in hell, but since I do hope they reap what they sow, I guess it's basically the same thing.
posted by notion at 3:04 PM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


On my way in to work this morning, I was idly thinking about what would be different if Cheney had, say, an incapacitating heart attack on September 10, 2001 (this was inspired partially by last week's unusually awesome Time Magazine story on Cheney's memoir). We made lots of devil's bargains with middle-eastern facist dictators against the Taliban and Al Quada in the years after 9/11, and I don't see a particular reason why Hussein's sins couldn't have been forgiven, eventually (although I admit that I'm looking at this through a millenialist's lens - I was just a child during the gulf wars and I turned 19 shortly before Hussein was deposed).
posted by muddgirl at 3:11 PM on September 9, 2011


Fortress America: The most enduring legacy of 9/11
posted by homunculus at 3:37 PM on September 9, 2011


"Yeah, well, as you move forward it gets harder and harder to defend our actions as those of uncivilized people from another time."

Epigraphical! And an outstanding comment.
posted by sneebler at 5:32 PM on September 9, 2011


I was always taught that modern history begins in 1648 and contemporary history at c.1938. Anything else is current events. As is 9/11.

I RTFA article, and all I can say is that I'm moving my family out of this country in large part because I've given up hope we can escape the opportunism that happened after 9/11, and I have no faith in our school "system" to do anything but indoctrinate my sons into the same élan of opportunism.

Also I was downtown that day, and I'll teach my boys what happened as an eyewitness. There are so many myths, so many untruths....no, not thermite and conspiracies, but rather the firefighters I saw running away, their wagons spewing rebar and debris carelessly along the avenues and headless of pedestrians, the Nuremberg size American flags after, the "processing center" at the corner of Hudson and Houston I passed every day going to work, the inexplicable subway station closings for weeks after, the paramilitary units with NO insignia but plenty of small arms in the financial district for weeks. Anyone who worked downtown during that period saw the same things, but very few talk about it.

My sons will know the truth and make their own decisions about whether or not they ever want to move back here.
posted by digitalprimate at 7:21 PM on September 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos

I sort of get that that's how you'd do it, but that still seems needlessly confusing. Any attempt to explain something to an audience that doesn't have a background in the subject matter is going to get completely bogged down in answering questions that would be better answered by starting at a reasonable starting point and moving forward. That's even more obvious when you go down a level in detail, where (I assume) no one would recommend teaching the events of say, World War II, in reverse chronological order ("But how did the American troops come to find themselves in France? Oh we'll cover that tomorrow when we talk about D-Day")

The whole thing seems like an exercise in making history "relevant" and interesting to people who don't care about it, which almost always ends up making the teacher look like a fool because most things simply aren't relevant to most people's day to day life, even current events. The fall of the Byzantine Empire isn't interesting or important because if you follow the chain of events long enough it impacts my life; it's interesting and important in its own right.

You also completely lose any historical perspective, with every event seen only through the lens of hindsight, removing the need to see things the way the people at the time did. It privileges the perspective of contemporary people in a way that does a complicates a person's ability to understand and engage in the past in a real way.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:20 PM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I went to high school in Canada, and remember that not only were our current national issues discussed, but those of other countries as well.
posted by stinkycheese at 8:22 PM on September 9, 2011


See, I don't think it's all that confusing at all; at least, not so much so that a decent teacher couldn't explain it.

Any attempt to explain something to an audience that doesn't have a background in the subject matter is going to get completely bogged down in answering questions that would be better answered by starting at a reasonable starting point and moving forward.

What makes you think that a) we can agree on what that "reasonable starting point" is, and b) that the "start at one point and move forward" PREVENTS people from asking questions that get things bogged down?

Mind, I've nearly always encountered the "start at one point and move forward" approach. But I don't really see anything to suggest that "start here and now and jump back approach couldn't ALSO work as an alternative. As with the forward-moving method, all depends on having a halfway decent teacher.

(And it's actually quite sweet you anticipate people actually asking questions in a history class. In every history class I've taken, the students were usually staring blankly at the teacher and waiting for the bell. Any actual learning that took place was usually not of a historical nature.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:29 PM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I teach Mandarin. I've been thinking I should go into class on Monday and saying, "Class, we're going to talk about an event in 2001 that scared me half to death.The event was one of the biggest diplomatic incidents early in George W. Bush's presidency. It made me wonder if the world was going to descend into war. It wasn't 9/11, it was the Orion EP-3 Incident."

There are a lot of useful directions such a discussion could go: how huge emergencies can seem until the next big emergency comes along. How to respond to seeming emergencies, and how little good security theater does us. How fragile US-China relations can seem sometimes, and how important mutual understanding is. How dangerous arrogance can be. That kind of thing.
posted by jiawen at 9:05 PM on September 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


High School history classes are notorious for never quite getting up to about 10-15 years before the present. They cover from the dawn of time to about 20 years ago, plus current events.

Like others in the thread, we covered the point up to the civil war pretty thoroughly and got an overview of WW1 and how the stage was set for WW2, and that was about it.

I'm 37, our dads fought in Vietnam and Korea, our grandfathers fought in WW2. Seemed odd that we wouldn't learn about that world.
posted by desuetude at 9:55 PM on September 9, 2011


Why don't we just forget about 9/11? Why give the the terrorists and their dancing partners the military/industrial/surveillance complex another single moment of our attention?
posted by psycho-alchemy at 10:08 PM on September 9, 2011


Ten years after al Qaeda's attack on the United States, the vast majority of the 9/11 Commission's investigative records remain sealed at the National Archives in Washington, even though the commission had directed the archives to make most of the material public in 2009, Reuters has learned.
posted by homunculus at 11:53 PM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


And it's actually quite sweet you anticipate people actually asking questions in a history class. In every history class I've taken, the students were usually staring blankly at the teacher and waiting for the bell.

I'd suggest reading the introduction to Lies My Teacher Told Me if you want to know why the glassy eyed stare is so common, rather than just taking it as a universal maxim of the history class.

----

In my experience as both student and educator, I'd say that even the honors and AP classes struggle to get up through about (TODAY-40 years). When I took APUSH in high school, our class - like many of yours, it seems - got about through WWII. 1945. I graduated in 1995, so that's actually 50 years, but I'd gleened enough from popular media at the time - which was rich with Vietnam retrospective movies and still running 1950s shit on TV - to really understand the next decade or two afterwards enough to address some multiple choice questions.

My own students, who are far less prepared than I was - on account of having a crappier teacher than I did (wrestling coach and all) - manage to make it up through Johnson and Vietnam with reasonable competence, with a papered over crash-course-coverage of Nixon-St. Ron. (1968 to 2011: Hey! 43 years. That's actually like 14% better than wrestling coach. FUCK YOU PRIVATE SCHOOL!)

And, honestly, that's a GOOD THING. And I say this as one who, while tilting toward that academia windmill, specialized in "current events": the history of computers and online communities. (IE: 1970-1990) There is a very real - and accurate - feeling among professional historians that anything within living memory is to subject to political, social, whatever manipulation and emotion to really be analyzed with anything close to objectivity. Besides which, the paucity of recent sourcs in the modern Information Security era, WikiLeaks "revolution" not withstanding The closest-to-gods-eye-view-we-can-get view does not become clear until classified documents are sunshine'd or also-ran kleptocracies release the shreaded up shards of whatever wasn't burnt to a crisp in the wake of Cold War Meltdown. We're (for values of WE that include really boring professional historians such as people who are not me) still reading memorandum from the fall of the Eastern Bloc here in 2013, how could some in 1998 possibly have had any sort of honest grasp on the situation in Vietnam? I mean, confirmation that huge swaths of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident were trumped up or outright fabricated did not come to light until 2005. How is a HIGH SCHOOL student in 1998 going to honestly assess Vietnam when his or her only referents are Apocalypse Now, Platoon, and M*A*S*H. (Fuck YOU if you say it is "about Korea." It is SET IN Korea. Miles of difference.) That is what we are expecting of our 17 (ish) year olds when we ask them about 9/11 and its .. errr... "long term" consequences.

There is an understanding among AP Teachers and other junior-varsity educators that there will not be any Document-Based or Free-Response Essay covering anything more recent than 40 or so years back. A few multiple choice questions, sure, but anything in your parent's memory is still too new and raw to honestly examine. I mean, the only reason I got away with such a chronologically recent topic back in spring training is because people were not killing each other en masse over the BBSes in 1993. When there is blood involved, more distance is required. I mean, in took until the mid 1980s before someone seriously suggested that, hey, maybe there was a seriously toxic racial element to the Pacific Theatre that did not exist on the Western Front in Europe. It took just almost as long to suggest that, perhaps, Hitler was not some Sorcerer but instead latent racism and could be coupled with mass media to create monsters out of ordinary men.
posted by absalom at 12:31 AM on September 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


DAMN IT! ". . . .could be coupled with mass media. . . ."
posted by absalom at 12:36 AM on September 10, 2011


We're (for values of WE that include really boring professional historians such as people who are not me) still reading memorandum from the fall of the Eastern Bloc here in 2013, how could some in 1998 possibly have had any sort of honest grasp on the situation in Vietnam? I mean, confirmation that huge swaths of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident were trumped up or outright fabricated did not come to light until 2005. How is a HIGH SCHOOL student in 1998 going to honestly assess Vietnam when his or her only referents are Apocalypse Now, Platoon, and M*A*S*H. (Fuck YOU if you say it is "about Korea." It is SET IN Korea. Miles of difference.) That is what we are expecting of our 17 (ish) year olds when we ask them about 9/11 and its .. errr... "long term" consequences.

In my AP History class, in 1998 or 1999, we were taught about how the Gulf of Tonkin incident was in all likelihood fictitious. Platoon only came up in 8th grade, and Apocalypse Now only came up in English class when we were talking about Heart of Darkness.

There is an understanding among AP Teachers and other junior-varsity educators that there will not be any Document-Based or Free-Response Essay covering anything more recent than 40 or so years back.

I remember being told something like this by our AP Teacher as well - that we couldn't talk about recent events because the test wouldn't focus quite as much on more recent events.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:02 AM on September 10, 2011


Mind, I've nearly always encountered the "start at one point and move forward" approach. But I don't really see anything to suggest that "start here and now and jump back approach couldn't ALSO work as an alternative. As with the forward-moving method, all depends on having a halfway decent teacher.

It's a mistake to plan a curriculum based on an assumption that there's going to be a good teacher because most people will have averagish teachers and many will have worse; the most straightforward way of teaching something is better when you can't be sure of the quality of the instruction. Also, I'd say the fact that we have a couple millennia and change of teaching history by moving forwards is a good sign that it's the better way to do things; that and the fact that time moves forward.

What makes you think that a) we can agree on what that "reasonable starting point" is, and b) that the "start at one point and move forward" PREVENTS people from asking questions that get things bogged down?

Finding starting points, basically what historians call "periodization," is hard. There's a general understanding that periodization is basically arbitrary, but historians keep doing it because it's necessary to keep every class/book from starting with the Big Bang. As a result, we've got some pretty good understandings of when to start things. Going backwards also doesn't remove the need to find a starting point; the only difference is that it's now you call it an end point.

To expand on what I said above, I also profoundly disagree with the motives driving teaching history backwards. It assume that the past is only relevant to the extent that it created the present, as a result it's really only a way to teach modern history. It doesn't really make sense as a way to teach medieval or ancient history; you'd never have time to get there and why would anyone care? The ways in which medieval history is "relevant" are a lot less obvious. I also think backwards teaching winds up (unintentionally) reinforcing a lot of privileges, even as it tries to undermine others. Only the groups and peoples who are important for how the world is today are important for history, which deemphasizes groups like the Native Americans. It's just a different way of emphasizing that history cares about the winners rather than the losers.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:04 AM on September 10, 2011


I'd suggest reading the introduction to Lies My Teacher Told Me if you want to know why the glassy eyed stare is so common, rather than just taking it as a universal maxim of the history class.

No, I've read it -- as well as the rest of the book. And that is precisely WHY I know that most history classes won't have the kinds of questions that bulgaroktonos thinks would be taking place if we shook things up a bit.

What I mean is -- the way that a lot of schools teach history right now is so borked that, well, hell, shaking up the order in which we teach things couldn't hurt.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:41 AM on September 10, 2011


I'm 37, our dads fought in Vietnam and Korea, our grandfathers fought in WW2. Seemed odd that we wouldn't learn about that world.

Out of Canadian interest, what do they teach you about Vietnam in the "normal" American curriculum? Who do they say actually won the war, and lost it? And taking it further, do they say America has lost any wars in its history? I mean, they certainly didn't "win" in Korea, did they?
posted by philip-random at 5:01 PM on September 10, 2011


Out of Canadian interest, what do they teach you about Vietnam in the "normal" American curriculum?

I wouldn't know. I've never been in a classroom where it was discussed. We only got as far as World War II when I was in high school.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:50 PM on September 10, 2011


My high school history teacher, a very conservative and very smart guy, told us all about the fabrication of the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 2001. I don't think anyone ever says America has never lost a war. History classes are jingoistic but not that jingoistic.
posted by miyabo at 8:04 PM on September 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


philip-random, Vietnam and Korea simply weren't covered at all. And I even took AP US History. In a high school with a pretty highly-regarded academic program.
posted by desuetude at 9:46 PM on September 10, 2011


Out of Canadian interest, what do they teach you about Vietnam in the "normal" American curriculum? Who do they say actually won the war, and lost it? And taking it further, do they say America has lost any wars in its history? I mean, they certainly didn't "win" in Korea, did they?

We covered Vietnam in at least one of our classes. It was certainly covered in English class, because I remember reading a book about some girl who visits the memorial wall after meeting a homeless vet. Of course they taught us that we lost--and we were taught a bit about the surrounding culture of the 60s as well.

I don't remember at all how Korea was covered.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:43 AM on September 11, 2011


Of course they taught us that we lost--and we were taught a bit about the surrounding culture of the 60s as well.

That's an interesting sentence.
posted by stinkycheese at 8:40 AM on September 11, 2011


Is it?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:49 AM on September 11, 2011


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