ARTICLE

The Age of Innocence in a 9/11 World

Each year, as the anniversary of 9/11 approaches, I feel a twinge of trepidation. My students don’t remember that horrible day. It’s not on their radar. I struggle with balancing wanting to honor those who lost their lives and the heroes of that day with the need to respect the innocence and hope of my students. Reconciling these conflicting emotions is always tricky.

Editor’s Note: As the country approaches the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Teaching Tolerance bloggers have written about their insights and experiences in the classroom as a result of the attacks. We offer these for your reflection and adoption.

One of the most endearing aspects of working with kindergartners is their innocence. When you’re 4 years old, you haven’t experienced much of the world. Most of my new friends have never been to a fancy restaurant, seen a foreign film or traveled outside our state. I love revealing new perspectives and experiences through books, food and discussions. It’s a major part of my job and just as important as teaching literacy and math.

Each year, as the anniversary of 9/11 approaches, I feel a twinge of trepidation. My students don’t remember that horrible day. It’s not on their radar. I struggle with balancing wanting to honor those who lost their lives and the heroes of that day with the need to respect the innocence and hope of my students. Reconciling these conflicting emotions is always tricky.

Though many of my students have seen or heard about the war or terrorism on the news, unless they have a family member in the military, these ideas are simply abstract. So while I want to open up the world to the littlest learners, I never want to alarm or frighten them.

It’s tough to plan a discussion. Phrases like “bad people” and “bad choices” come to my mind, but don’t really convey the gravity of the event. Usually, trying to steer clear of specifics, I go with something along the “today-we-celebrate-and-honor-the-bravery-and-courage-of-our-country” line.

This year, I’m happy to have a new resource, author Debbie Clement’s Red, White, and Blue to help foster the conversation. Clement, a kindergarten teacher herself, has crafted a beautiful, reverent book with illustrations of our country’s landscapes, cityscapes and heroes. The book’s text double as song lyrics that are included on a CD. This book could be used for the Fourth of July just as well as Sept. 11. It’s all about celebrating the diversity and beauty of our country.

So each year as the 9/11 anniversary approaches, I try to remember that the people who organized and carried out the events of that insidious day wanted one thing. More than murdering people, I believe they wanted to kill our country’s spirit. For a short time after, it was certainly shaken. 

But when I go to school each day and see the bright and hopeful smiles of my students, I remember the attackers didn’t succeed. Each student believes they can grow up to be and do anything. My job as an educator, is not only to teach academics, but also to ensure students become kind and caring members of society. I try to teach them to love and respect themselves and each other. It’s my way of fighting terrorism:  with smiles, songs and puppets.

Halpern is a kindergarten teacher in Maine.

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