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Faculty discuss incorporating 9/11 history into the classroom

IC Managing Editor

Published: Monday, September 12, 2011

Updated: Monday, September 12, 2011 03:09


Family members lay flowers and flags at the memorial during the tenth anniversary ceremonies at the

April Saul/Philadelphia Inquirer/MCT

Although Sept. 11 occurred a decade ago, the issue of where the attacks fit into the classrooms and history textbooks is still being debated.

"These events are, at the time, partial to be landmark crises," said Mark Denham, associate professor and chair of the Political Science Department. "We begin to say, ‘this will change our perspective forever."

Larry Connin, administration coordinator for the Honors College, teaches a readings conference course to freshman honors students; he said although Sept. 11 was irrelevant to the course, he had anticipated some talk about it in his discussion-based class.

"In my class today, I raised the issue of 9/11," Connin said in an email. "They seemed to be very distant from the issue, giving it very little thought. Or as one student put it, ‘That is all behind us now with the recent death of [Osama bin Laden].' In short, it was a non-issue with them... They know the anniversary is coming up, but they are focused on many other things, especially their classes."

Part of the issue is whether Sept. 11 is considered a current or historical event.

Bruce Way, lecturer of history and French, said most survey history classes that teach the late 20th Century and early 21st Century American history barely make it to the 1980's.

He said he thinks an event becomes historical as more information becomes available and issues can be viewed objectively.

"It may become history when it becomes appropriate to ask the tough questions," Way said. "[It becomes history] when we can have a discussion on white boards on different elements of the events. If you can begin to sit down, then we move away from immediate reactions into a historical setting."

Way said because information can be made available faster through advancements in technology, he believes events will become "historical" more rapidly.

"The horizon is shrinking," he said.

Way said Sept. 11 can be used as a tool for teaching concepts and vocabulary words such as terrorism and disaster to younger generations. In college, however, part of the issue becomes how the events can be interpreted or analyzed. Because history can be interpreted to form a bias, Way said students should pay attention to see if they are being taught objectively.

"It's an example of, ‘is this something you get from Fox News or Lawrence O'Donnell?'" Way said. Gregory Miller, a part-time instructor of history, is teaching "America from 1865" this semester.

He said when he reaches his 9/11 unit, he plans to show a documentary about the events leading up to the attacks, specifically looking at the lack of actions done by the former President George W. Bush's Administration.

Denham said in political science, events such as Sept. 11 are used to help explain theories about terrorism and answer questions about emergency and policy responses.

Denham said one of the results of Sept. 11 was the government was made aware of the dangers of terrorist attacks.

He said in the past decade, the federal government spent $3.2 trillion regarding issues of securities. Although, most of that money was used to fund military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, Denham said over $6 billion went to changes in airport security.

Way said another concept learned from 9/11 is in times of tragedy, it becomes difficult to criticize leaders.

Miller said the day before 9/11, Bush's approval ratings were declining rapidly, but following the attacks, his ratings soared over 90 percent.

"In times of crisis, we create the heroes we need," Miller said.

Denham said the month after Sept. 11, he spoke as a political scientist in a discussion panel.

He said he received criticism from the UT community because he was asking critical questions about the events leading up to the 9/11 attack.

"We received criticism asking academic questions early as if it was only an emotional event," Denham said.

Although right now it remains unclear how the issue will be taught in 10 years, Miller said he believes Sept. 11 will be taught as "a tragic event as an accumulation of missteps and wishful ignorance."

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