Jonathan Zimmerman: On 9/11, keep war politics out of the classroom

Roundup: Talking About History

[Zimmerman teaches history and education at New York University and is author of the forthcoming book"Innocents Abroad: American Teachers in the American Century."]

Next Monday, schools in Killeen, Tex., will host"Freedom Walks" to mark the five-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. In Little Rock, Ark., one high school will stage a dramatic play about victims and survivors of the tragedy. And in Arlington, Va., students will observe a moment of silence at 9:37 a.m., when a plane struck the Pentagon.

That's all as it should be, of course. Some 3,000 Americans lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, and all of us should pause to honor their memory.

But in a democracy, schools must do more than simply commemorate important national events. We also need to ask tough questions about why they occurred - and how we should respond to them. And on that score, I fear, most classrooms will fall far short.

Consider the"Freedom Walks," which will take place in 117 cities across the nation next Monday. The walks are sponsored by America Supports You, a Pentagon-funded organization that aims to"support America's Armed Forces, especially in forward-deployed areas of the Global War on Terrorism," according to the group's Web site. For"forward-deployed areas," think"Iraq."

But is the Iraq war part of a wider, worldwide struggle against terrorism? That's what President Bush says, of course. But over half of Americans disagree, according to recent polls.

Why, then, should our schools endorse the Iraq-terrorism connection? It would make just as much sense for them to condemn the war and call for the troops to come home.

That's not the job of public schools. Given our profound disagreements over the war in Iraq, schools shouldn't endorse or denounce it. Instead, they should educate students - and help them come to their own informed conclusions about this conflict and its alleged connections to global terrorism....

Related Links

  • 9/11: Five Years Later

  • Teaching About 9-11

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