Valerie Strauss for The Washington Post, September 9, 2011:
Most states do not include in their social studies/history standards a direct mention of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to a new study, and only four states actually name Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda.
An earlier stage of the study had found that many of the best-selling history and civics textbooks used in schools have “a startling lack of detail about what actually happened” on Sept. 11.
Twenty states plus the District of Columbia mention the terrorist attacks but most don’t require that students learn more than a few key facts devoid of context, it says. Of those that don’t directly mention Sept. 11, 14 states include some reference to terrorism or another key term related to the war on terror. And 14 states don’t include any reference to 9/11, the war on terror or terrorism.
“For the most part, students are not directed to examine the roots and causes of terrorism, but instead are asked to learn about the impact of these attacks, primarily on the United States,” a summary of the report says.
The study was conducted by Professors Jeremy Stoddard from the College of William & Mary and Diana Hess at the University of Wisconsin-Madison/Spencer Foundation. It was released by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tisch College at Tufts University.
It was released just days before the 10th anniversary of the attacks and contributes to a debate about how, when and what children should be taught in school about the event.
For example, a separate report just issued by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute argues that some 9/11 lessons being taught to children are missing the point of the event, giving too little information about the history and instead discussing related issues.
There is also the question about whether it makes more sense to teach about the terrorist attacks as part of a history or current events course rather than as a separate lesson taught to coincide with the anniversary.
Supporters of this type of “calendar curriculum” note that because Sept. 11 was such an important day in the consciousness of modern America, it makes sense to use the actual anniversary to introduce and discuss it with children who did not live through it.
(That, of course, begs the question of why we don’t do it with other historically important events in American history.)
The report on standards also says:
* The four states that mention bin Laden or al-Qaeda by name are Georgia, Louisiana, Montana and Texas.
* Three states specifically include Islam in the context of terrorism and 9/11: Louisiana, Massachusetts and Texas. Massachusetts’s standards, it says, focus the study of terrorism on Islamic fundamentalism and the Middle East.
* Sept. 11 isn’t the only unique historical date ignored by most state standards: Only 14 states plus the District of Columbia include direct mentions of the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which ushered the United States into World War II.
* Along with Washington, D.C., the states that have social studies/history standards that include Sept.11 are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Washington.
Earlier stages of the three-part study found:
* Textbooks and curricula published right after the 2001 attacks portrayed the United States as the victim of “a uniquely devastating attack” and material presented portrayed the events as “of great historic importance,” offering personal stories of the victims and rescuers. That changed in subsequent years to more general material.
“The attacks of 9/11 and their aftermath have been appropriated for a wide array of curricular, pedagogical, and ideological goals that generally reflect the goals of the various curriculum producers,” a summary of the three-stage report says.
“There is a startling lack of detail about what actually happened on 9/11,” the summary says. “This continues in the revised versions of the textbooks, even though students in high school in 2011 were not old enough to have a good understanding (or recollection) of what happened on 9/11. One would expect then that the most recently revised textbooks would contain more specific details.”
* In general textbooks and most standards do not use the attacks to promote “higher-order thinking” among students.
* Many of the curricula and textbooks studied provided “explicit, authoritative definitions of terrorism,” even though the subject is debated and contested.