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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Pluralism and 9-11

New Jesey is developing a statewide K-12 curriculum for teaching 9-11

I spent the day yesterday at a planning conference that is mapping out what this curriculum should contain. My wife Marina and I were on the subcommittee dealing with pluralism, along with David Commins — a very astute and wise professor of Middle East studies and several classroom teachers. I’ll tell about our very satisfying discussions in a moment — but first, let me answer some questions you may already have:

Teachers pointed out that you cannot teach 9-11 on 9-11 since the school year is just starting, and teachers and students hardly know each other. Everyone agreed that the actual content related to September 11 would be 6th grade up. K-5 would more be general lessons about understanding, tolerance, heroism.

In our committee one of the first things we agreed on — which gets to the heart of this column — is that history teachers have a schedule already crammed full of dates and events they have to "cover." They have a time period to trot through, say Civil War to WW2, and not enough days to even list key people, places, causes and effects. The one teacher who does have room in her schedule teaches a year long course on Human Rights — she teaches a theme, which allows her to select what to include. We made two suggestions — instead of adding 9-11/terrorism as a discrete new subject to tack on at the beginning or end of the year, weave it in. Talk about 9-11: the actual day, the causes, and the consequences when you teach the Alien and Sedition Acts in colonial history; or the Bill of Rights; or the Palmer Raids and the Red Scare, or, obviously, McCarthyism. Teach Islam and the Middle East when you teach immigration, or the Crusades. Use the many faces of 9-11 — the brokers who were killed, the working class hero firemen and policemen, the immigrants who were victims in the towers and then again in raids, the many communities bound together on that day.

And then our last and largest suggestion — get the English teachers involved. Social Studies is weighed down by what it must cram in for tests. English classes have the freedom to read as they like. And — drum roll — I suggest that English classes read nonfiction. Read oral history accounts of 9-11 (in high school). Read the graphic novel version of the study on why it happened. This is a perfect opportunity to treat nonfiction as literature, even as we use the greater flexibility of English classes to open students minds about the real world.