Schools in seven states will be trying a new curriculum this week that uses online videos and interactive lessons to teach middle and high school students about the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani joined Sept. 11 family members and college professors on Sept. 8 at a hotel blocks from the World Trade Center site to unveil the "Teaching 9/11" curriculum.
The curriculum, believed to be the first comprehensive educational plan focusing on the attacks, will be tested this year at schools in New York City, California, New Jersey, Alabama, Indiana, Illinois, and Kansas.
Developed with the help of educators by the Brick, N.J.-based Sept. 11 Education Trust, the curriculum is based on primary sources, archival footage, and more than 70 interviews with witnesses, family members of victims, and politicians–including Giuliani and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a New York senator at the time of the attacks.
The curriculum is taught through video clips, lessons, and interactive exercises, including one that requires students to use Google Earth software to map global terrorist activity.
One of the project’s main goals is to help students entering middle and high school, who might have been too young to have strong memories of the attacks, develop a tangible connection to what happened.
"In a few years, we will be teaching students who were not even alive at the time of the attacks," said Anthony Gardner, the executive director of the Sept. 11 Education Trust.
The nonprofit group is run by victims’ families, survivors, and rescue workers who worry that educators don’t teach about the attacks because they don’t have the educational tools to do so.
Giuliani said that the curriculum can help students to think critically about the attacks as both a historical event and one that shapes the present, noting the continued threat of terrorism and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"This is one of the critical subjects on which young people should develop some ideas and thoughts. They’re going to have to live with this for quite some time," he said. "It gives young people a framework in which to think about Sept. 11, all that it meant and all that it means to the present."
For the professors who helped to develop the plan through the Taft Institute for Government at Queens College, creating that framework to understanding how 9/11 affects today’s policies was critical to the endeavor, and part of the challenge.
"The real trick is to get kids to see that it’s not just a dramatic event like 9/11 that connects them to these issues, it’s connected to their lives in the everyday," said Michael A. Krasner, a political scientist at Queens College. He said a range of viewpoints are reflected in the curriculum, including those from Muslim scholars, to enrich the discussion.
The curriculum was designed so that teachers could tailor it to their own classrooms, but it gives an open-eyed view of 9/11, Gardner said.
"We’re not sugarcoating the event," said Gardner, whose brother died in the World Trade Center. "We’ve included images that are challenging."
Students and educators are invited to participate on a web site developed around the curriculum, where they can share their own videos, lesson plans, and discuss the questions raised in their classrooms.
The curriculum was first piloted in 2008 at the River Dell Regional High School, a roughly 1,000-student high school in Oradell, N.J., about 20 miles north of Manhattan.
It costs $99 per license through Sept. 18, 2009. After that, it will cost $129. The money will go toward the development of more teaching materials on 9/11.
The National September 11 Memorial & Museum also has developed educational materials for high schools, which are intended to augment classroom discussions, not to serve as an in-depth curriculum.