June 28, 2016

Partly sunny

Teaching 9/11 to students

Even 10 years later, Chris Kestner can vividly recall the moment he heard two planes had struck the World Trade Center in New York.

It was third-period study hall, the Highland High School social studies chairman remembered, and “everything just exploded from there.”

Now Kestner has the task of trying to convey the facts and emotions of the day to students who were barely 4 years old on Sept. 11, 2001.

“That’s our job,” he said. “To bring those memories back and reinforce them.”

The events of 9/11 are now part of the state’s curriculum module, challenging teachers to discuss an event that comes with deep emotional scars.

“To us adults, it’s a very recent event,” Kestner said. “You don’t think of it as history. Whereas to the kids, it is.”

Laurie Boedicker, Highland’s director of curriculum, said the state mandates what topics teachers have to hit, but each can develop his or her own strategies for relaying the information.

At Highland, that means a big emphasis on first-hand storytelling, she said.

“They can actually look at a newspaper from that day,” Boedicker said. “That means so much more than a picture put in a textbook.”

Kestner said most students have a decent grasp of the topic, having heard stories from those who are old enough to remember and seeing images on television and in their books, but he seeks to provide a more in-depth view.

“They don’t really understand how things are different,” Kestner said. “You could be waiting at the gate for your parent to come home from a business trip when you were a kid and now you can’t go anywhere near it. There are subtle little changes that they’ve never understood or witnessed.”

Conveying the emotion of the days, weeks and months that followed the Sept. 11 attacks is also a challenge, he said.

“I can remember everything,” Kestner said. “Every single thing.”

Years later, he said, the emotion was still flowing when he took his family to visit the memorial for United Flight 93, the plane that crashed in Shanksville, Pa.

“They had a display of all the texts and the phone calls from the plane,” Kestner said, adding the messages had his wife in tears. “Your heart starts swelling when you go in there.”

When he speaks to students about that emotion, Kestner said, he focuses on the outpouring of patriotism that followed Sept. 11, and relates it to other events like the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

“I like teaching them causes and impacts afterward, getting them to understand how it happened and why it happened,” he said.

The most fragile of topics concerning Sept. 11, Kestner said, is the tendency to blame religion for the attacks.

“It isn’t the religion that did this,” he said. “They took their religion and twisted it for their own benefit.” However, Boedicker said, the ultimate lesson is: “Freedom is not free.”

Contact Jennifer Pignolet at (330) 721-4063 or jpignolet@medina-gazette.com.