My daughter and I just had a chat this evening that was eye-opening and profound for me. We were sitting at my kitchen counter as she conveyed the story of a very unexpected conversation she had at work today. My daughter is a music teacher in a Phoenix elementary school, and she and other teachers were all admonished to “be sure to include something about 9/11” in their curriculum for today.
She started out her first class of the day speaking with eleven and twelve year-old music students. She began by asking them if they remembered what had happened eleven years ago today. After twenty-five minutes of astounding conversation with her class, she learned something extremely disturbing. Her entire class of sixth grade music students did not even know what happened on September 9, 2001!
She quickly realized she had embarked into the unsettling responsibility of explaining the 9/11 story to her students for the first time in their young lives. She told them about how some very bad people who hate our country hi-jacked four airplanes, crashing them into two of the country’s tallest buildings. She explained that 2,000 people died that day.
She watched the faces of her students respond to the news in disbelief and horror, and noticed that some were even quietly wiping the tears from their eyes in response to the sadness of their new knowledge. She endeavored to carefully limit her account of the events to factual and age-appropriate information, sparing all the gruesome details.
These children grew up hearing everyone around them talking about it, observing since early childhood a deep sense of sobriety and mourning each time it is mentioned. But, they didn’t know what actually happened on 9/11!
She was stunned that none of her students knew that airplanes crashed into the twin towers in New York, the Pentagon and the field in Pennsylvania. She saved the most positive part of the story for last about the “brave people in the airplane who fought back, sacrificing their own lives to save the lives of countless unknown others.”
These students were all born right around the time of this great tragedy. One student soulful admission? Today was his eleventh birthday. Even he did not know what had happened the day he was born. No one ever told him what 9/11 was all about. The class explained to my daughter that they all knew the term 9/11, but that no one had ever explained to them what actually happened that sad day many years ago.
Her music students explained to my daughter how they remembered countless times people in their lives referred to 9/11. They have all been afraid to ask the grown ups in their lives to tell them more about it, because of the immense sadness and grief they sense each time 9/11 is mentioned. The children each concluded that 9/11 was too painful for people to want to talk about.
The children asked her countless questions. The hardest one? One child asked, “Why didn’t God stop them?”
The profound truth: young children cannot forget something they don’t know about. We have a half generation of children in America that have been born since 9/11/2001. These youngsters are a year away from middle school and six years away from college, and may have been kept inadvertently in the dark about the facts behind the great loss America mourns today.
For America to not forget, we will need to first teach our children!