Yesterday, I spoke to 4 Social Studies classes about September 11th, 2001. I worried that they would sit with glazed eyes, looking at their cell phones, counting the minutes away, until it was time for the next class. I learned that I should not assume anything.
I would be introduced to the class as someone who had knowledge of the day in History they talked about just a few days before. The students were told to hold all their questions until the end but they could write it on their “Do Now” sheet of paper.
I began…. My name is Sonia Agron and I am a volunteer docent.
Glazed looks began… wait…let’s start again
“How many of you have been to museum’s before?”
Many raised their hands. Okay, I’ve got them back.
“Well you’ve seen artifacts, paintings, sculptures and things there are no words for, right?” They all said yes. So far so good.
“Do you ever have questions about these things?” They all said yes.
“There are people that spend hours studying the very things you question. And when you go to the museums, you ask those people any thing you want to know about that artifact, that sculpture, that weird shape thing and guess what? They will give you the information about that piece from A to Z. That’s what I do.”
Now they were sitting straight and forward. Glazed eyes defeated.
I shared just a little part of my story to get them on a time line of the events of the day. We talked about the attacks, the reasons why, and how our world changed in 102 minutes, I could see they were trying to figure out how much time that was so I said, “That’s less than 2 hours, less than 2 of your class room periods.” The looks on their faces were the new looks of 9/11. The looks of students who weren’t even born, trying to understand how this could happen in a world they live in. The students began to write hurriedly on their sheets of paper questions I would soon have to face.
I continued with my story, leaving out just one part, actually two parts. Then we talked about the Memorial and why it was important when they go there to understand that it was not a playground nor was it a place where they could take selfies. The questions began:
“Why did they do this to us? What did we do to them? How could they hate us like this? Why would they kill innocent people? Didn’t they realize what damage they would cause? Are we prepared for this to happen again because I think it will happen again, I read about Isis?”
Taking a deep breath I explained why they targeted American. Why they hated us and why innocent people had to die. I told them they knew the damage they would cause but didn’t care and that we were as prepared as we could be for another attack if one would happen.
Then one child stood up and asked, ” Please please tell me…. (insert deep breath here) what if 9/11 hadn’t happen… wouldn’t we be living in a better world? Please tell me that.”
Another deep breath and a pause. “I can’t honestly tell you that if the attacks didn’t happen on 9/11 that they wouldn’t have happened at all. I can only tell you that when they happened as shocked as we were, we pulled together and became a nation who quickly began to heal through the kindness and hard work of others and that continues to this very day.”
One student said, “But I don’t understand how any one could be convinced to do these things.”
A teachable moment….
“Let’s try this, ” I said. I don’t like your earrings. They are big and make you look like you are 20,Why are you acting like a 20-year-old when you are a child? Who sold you those earrings?”
“The man on the corner in the cart.”
“Well every one pay attention, that man in the corner with the cart is evil, he sells earrings to make our young girls look like they are 20 years old. That is a sin and not part of our religion, that man must be punished. Let us blow up the entire block but while we are planning that, we must tell others, we must make others understand that this girl who is a child is being forced to be a 20-year-old because this horrible man with no morals sold her these earrings and he’s doing it to all our girls in this neighborhood and across the country. We must kill them all but before we do that we must tell people of their sins, we must get people to believe them. we mus…..”
The young lady stopped me and said, “You are trying to scare every body into thinking that man is horrible but he only sold me these earrings for 2 dollars why would you want every one here to be angry at him and every one else in that area? That’s wrong and unfair.”
“You are correct.” I said. By the way your earrings are beautiful and it’s just fine that you bought them where you did I just wanted to show you how easy it is to get into people’s mind and get them to believe things that aren’t true. I am trying to get you to understand that you have a mind of your own and therefore you think for yourself, you make your own choices, no one makes them for you.”
And as I was about to finish, one of the students, a very well spoken student, would say, “Oh right, the Boston Bombers, were American’s, they had a different religion but they believed something really wrong about us and bombed the marathon. And so what you are saying that people can come up to us and try to tell us something that isn’t true just so they can build their army of hate and so they can plan their own war against innocent people and if we don’t listen and if stand strong in our beliefs and think for ourselves maybe those 19 men would have never had to do what they did because they wouldn’t have listened to that other man who told them America $&(ucks>”
Before I knew another discussion was born: “Bullying. Isn’t that a form of terroism?Some kid picks on another kid because he just doesn’t like him and he gets others to join him and they do until every one becomes a part of that group. Meanwhile the kid who is being bullied did nothing.”
And out of the 9/11 lesson came a daily life lesson where the students all said, “Yo that was messed up. We can’t be doing these things, we can’t be mini Terrorists. This just ain’t right. We gots to be right.” Now the teacher was cringing at the improper use of he English language I was happy that they were able to understand the message in my delivery.
We were nearing the end and they talked about the story they read in “Chicken Soup For The Soul” Book, Volunteering and Giving back. They said, Ms. A said we might meet the author but that’s okay, we met you today and that’s better. I smiled and said, ” I am the author.” Cheers,, laughter, high fives went up… and then I said, “Do you remember that 16-year-old daughter of mine I told you about? The room quickly turned quiet.
She’s a teacher today.
She’s your teacher….
“Wow..wait..what? What…Miss A.. this yo mamma…”