An essay recommending parents and educators not “suggest any group is responsible” for last year’s terrorist attack on the World Trade Center brought the National Education Association’s new Web site, “Remember September 11th,” under heavy criticism from the media, policy analysts, and even rival union the American Federation of Teachers.
The Web site, funded in part by a grant from Johnson & Johnson, provides lesson plans and resources for teachers and parents “to help young people learn from the September 11 tragedy.”
The main source of the criticism is an essay posted under “Tips for Parents and Schools Regarding the Anniversary of 9/11.” Although several lesson plans focus on intolerance and discrimination, critics perceive this one as going too far.
“We just don’t think it is the best way to help teachers figure out instruction on 9-11,” commented AFT spokeswoman Janet Bass.
In addition to its recommendation that teachers not suggest any group is responsible for the attack, the essay urges discussion of “historical instances of American intolerance,” of which the internment of “Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor and the backlash against Arab Americans during the Gulf War are obvious examples.”
The essay includes many other suggestions. It tells parents and teachers to “Emphasize positive, familiar images of diverse ethnic groups” and “Read books with your children that address prejudice, tolerance, and hate.” There is no mention, however, of prejudice and intolerance against Americans or how such hatred culminated in the tragic events of September 11, 2001.
Reacting to the criticism, the NEA issued a press release on August 27, stating, “The site has been subjected to some criticism by those who have taken the material out of context. Using this national tragedy to attempt to score political points is a new low, and we urge visitors to make their own assessments of its value. We are confident that most will find the site quite useful in helping our young people cope with the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.”
Jerald Newberry, director of the group that produced the site—the NEA’s Health Information Network—went further and claimed bigotry was behind the criticism of the tolerance lessons.
“If you boil down the concerns of the opposition, what I would call the far right, ultimately what it boils down to is: ‘I am not comfortable with my child being in school with someone who’s different. I want to keep my child surrounded by people who are identical to me. The world is getting too diverse, and I’m scared,'” Newberry told New York Times journalist Kate Zernike.
Despite the controversy, the union has kept the “Tips for Parents and Schools Regarding the Anniversary of 9/11” essay posted, under the rationale it is just one of many diverse viewpoints available on the site.
Initially posted as written by Brian Lippincott of John F. Kennedy University’s Graduate School of Professional Psychology, the essay was later reposted as part of an essay by the National Association of School Psychologists under the title “A National Tragedy: Promoting Tolerance and Peace in Children: Tips for Parents and Schools.”
Criticism of the Web site, however, is not confined to Lippincott’s essay. Questions also have been raised about the academic value of many of the NEA’s lesson plans.
Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, called the site a “mishmash of pop-psychotherapeutics, feel-goodism, relativism, and overblown multiculturalism, even more noteworthy for what’s not there: history, civics, patriotism, etc.”
While some of the lesson plans include the reading of historical documents, an analysis of media sources, an examination of world religions, and other academic activities, more of them focus on arts and crafts, music, and the sharing of feelings. Examples are numerous:
- A lesson plan for elementary school students includes the “sending of patriotically themed stuffed bears across the nation.”
- Another plan for grades 3-12 describes how students can build a “moving memorial” by expressing themselves through physical movements that convey various emotions.
- The objective of a middle school lesson plan is “Diversity awareness and safe school initiatives through the construction of a commemorative quilt memorializing the events of September 11.”
- In another lesson plan, students are given the “opportunity to discuss and have validated their feelings about the events of September 11 in a non-judgmental discussion circle” called the “circle of feelings.”
- “Kindness Towers Here” gives students in all grades the opportunity to write and display stories in the shape of two towers on the wall or on a cardboard structure.
Lesson plan contributors include the American Red Cross, the Smithsonian Institution, the National Association of School Psychologists, and others. The site also contains resource links to major news sources, historical documents, and government public safety agencies. New lesson plans are added daily to the Web site.
The NEA Web site was not the only source of materials for teachers and parents marking the anniversary of the terrorist attack.
The Bill of Rights Institute, an organization dedicated to improving civics education in schools, provided a 9/11 lesson plan. The Institute’s plan focuses on the expression of civic values on 9/11 and throughout America’s history.
The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation has made available a resource entitled “September 11: What Our Children Need to Know,” which contains 23 short essays on what children should learn from 9/11. Written by eminent educators, historians, political scientists, and policy analysts, the essays focus on history, civics, valor, and terrorism.
Krista Kafer is senior policy analyst for education at The Heritage Foundation. Her email address is [email protected].
For more information
The National Education Association Web site, “Remember September 11th,” is at http://neahin.org/programs/schoolsafety/september11/materials/lessonhome.htm.
Brian Lippincott’s essay for the National Association of School Psychologists, “A National Tragedy: Promoting Tolerance and Peace in Children: Tips for Parents and Schools,” is at http://www.nasponline.org/NEAT/tolerance.html.
The lesson plan for 9/11 from the Bill of Rights Institute is at http://www.billofrightsinstitute.org/pdf/911complete.pdf.
The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation resource, “September 11: What Our Children Need to Know,” is at http://www.edexcellence.net/Sept11/September11.pdf.