Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Perpetuating the Legacy of 9-11 through the Lessons We Teach

Like most elementary school teachers, I have always been intimidated by the prospect of creating a fitting lesson to present to my students on 9/11. Last year, I finally came up with something that I feel is perfectly suitable. Instead of dwelling on the atrocities that happened on that tragic day, I found materials that focus on the power of the human spirit instead.

If there can even be a silver lining to such a horrific event, the bright side of 9/11 would have to be the renewed sense of patriotism, solidarity, compassion, and philanthropy that surged in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.

In my search for appropriate materials to use with my students last year, I stumbled upon a gem of a book. 14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy is the touching story of how a Massai tribe in a remote village in Kenya responds when one of the villagers returns from his medical studies in New York with tales of the tragedy and destruction of September 11th. By the time you get to the afterword which is a biographical note from Kimeli Naiyomah, the traveler in the story, students can totally relate to the outpouring of love that swept across the globe following 9/11.

Cows are revered in the Kenyan village in the story. The author eloquently explains how they are a symbol of life to the Massai. It is a moving scene in the story when the villagers present a gift of 14 cows to a diplomat from the the US Embassy in hopes of healing some of the pain in the hearts of Americans. 

The cow in the story is a perfect jumping off point for a deeper look at symbolism. When we finished discussing the book, we watched a video clip from called Patriotic Patchwork. This video clip from 2010 features the National 9/11 Flag, a 30 foot flag that was found dangling torn and tattered from a construction site across the street from the Twin Towers after they fell. The flag is being stitched back together with fabric from other American flags that have flown in all fifty states. When it is done it will become part of the National 9-11 Memorial. The people in the news segment talk about how the flag is a symbol of American values like freedom, sense of duty, spirit of helping, resolve, and compassion. The National 9-11 Flag is the perfect symbol of the power of the human spirit and the resilience of the American people, and that is exactly what I wanted my students to take away from our 9-11 lesson.

We followed up the read aloud and the video clip with a concrete symbolism activity. The children colored these patriotic hearts while we listed to songs like "God Bless the USA" by Lee Greenwood.

I haven't heard what the children had to say about our activities today. I sent this cloze comprehension sheet home with my students for homework. I am eager to read what they came away with from today's lesson. I also hope the homework activity stimulated some healthy conversation at home about 9-11 and  the American spirit. 
It's not easy to talk about the tragic events of 9-11 with children, but I believe we have an obligation to do it. The best way we can honor those who lost their lives in the September 11th attacks is to ensure that they did not die in vain. As educators, we can perpetuate their legacy of renewed patriotism and a rekindled American spirit by sharing it with our students year after year.

1 comment:

  1. This looks like a beautiful story. I will have to check it out for next year. Thanks for the suggestion.

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