Teaching 9/11: Generation of students taught history of attacks

For many, the date Sept. 11 stirs up vivid memories of the moments the U.S. was attacked. But for those who were not alive 20 years ago, they are now being taught what that day truly meant.

On Sept. 11, 2001, countless people watched the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil. Terrorists hijacked commercial planes, crashing two of them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon and another in a Pennsylvania field.

"Heartbreaking moment in our history," said Michael Jensen, a Racine high school teacher. "I remember that day and seeing those planes hit the tower over and over…one small event can change everything."

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Just a few steps away from where Jensen watched the events unfold as a sophomore at Racine's Case High School, he now shares his recollection 20 years later – and teaches about the historic event.

"I just want (students) to understand the importance of that moment, and what it meant for us as a country," Jensen said. "The impact of that day, who it affected, how it affected them."

Michael Jensen

Doing it all, in a way, by having students connect to the human element. Scrolling through an interactive website, students read profiles of the 2,977 lives lost that day.

"It was such a devastating time in the U.S.," said student Mailyah Haines. "It’s very sad learning about this."

Mailyah Haines

Haines realizes the sacrifice of one of the passengers on board United flight 93 who helped try to regain control of the plane.

"He was risking his life to help people he didn’t even know," said Haines.

For sophomore Jacob Ziegler, the in-class project of writing about what the victims are remembered for struck a chord.

"It’s definitely a dark feeling knowing that that has happened," Ziegler said. "Each one of those people had different lives and aspirations, and people they loved and cared about and dreams they won’t be able to live out now."

Jacob Ziegler

From talking about the victims to heroic first responders, Jensen takes the lesson further.

"We looked at Afghanistan. We looked at discrimination, the rise of hate crimes," said Jensen. "We looked at the little subtle ways it changed our everyday lives things…Look at economics – people forget it pretty much cratered the global economy."

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As the day to commemorate 9/11 approached, students planned to take part in a national day of prayer and remembrance after drawing an emotional connection and having better knowledge and understanding of a day that will never be forgotten.

"Hopefully see it as a moment where America got knocked down, but we got back up and continue to live our lives and do the things that continue to do to make us a great country," Jensen said.

Because Sept. 11, 2021, falls on a Saturday, in remembrance and tribute, the Racine Unified School District observed a moment of silence across the district at 9:30 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 10.

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