Eighteen years ago today, a series of airplane crashes changed the world.
These crashes were no accident. The September 11th terror attacks were a well-orchestrated strike into the hearts of Americans, killing so many of our countrymen and injecting a new and terrible fear into the hearts of us all.
The strikes brought down the World Trade Center in New York, a section of the Pentagon, and aimed to take out the White House (had it not been for the heroic actions of the Americans on board of the final plane, sending it instead into a field in Pennsylvania). They kept us out of sports arenas and large gatherings for fear of what might happen next. The United States began taking steps toward war to punish those responsible – a terror organization deep in the heart of the Middle East.
That war and the wars that followed have not ended since they started.
Across America today, there are students who are learning about this event in a solely historical context – this year’s graduating high school seniors were either less than a year old or not even born when the attacks happened. Yet, the world they are growing up in is a world built upon those attacks.
Many of them have parents in the military, who even now serve overseas in the same places that spawned the terrorists who attacked us. Others have family that has been lost in those conflicts. Still others come from families who support the war or families who oppose it.
The politics inspired by those terror attacks and the wars in the Middle East have shaped family discourse. While not solely due to the September 11th attacks, what has happened in the political realm has undoubtedly been shaped by them. Because of that, we now live in a very politically-charged era. Kids are becoming all-too-aware of the toxicity of it all, and it bleeds into the classroom.
It’s a world that they know all-to-well, but it’s not the world that my generation (the beloved millennial generation) and those older than I always knew. Sure, we can look at several events through history that have changed the world, and we can argue many generations have their own similar historical world-shaping events. It’s also true that this generation may well come to witness an event that shapes their worldview like September 11th, Pearl Harbor, the assassination of JFK, and other events affected previous generations.
With September 11th the most current of those events, however, it’s important for those of us old enough to remember it to explain why and how the world has changed. There are far too many people even in our media and political establishments who pretend as though history began sometime after 2002.
That type of worldview, the type that ignores the context of the times we live in, is actually dangerous. Context is what makes history something to learn from. Simply memorizing the dates and people and events of history isn’t enough. The context that makes them important fill in the gaps, and lead us from one event to the other, making it more than a timeline but an explanation of why the world is the way it is.
The students in our classrooms today need to understand the context of their world. They need to know the context of the world as it was before and leading up to September 11, 2001, and they need to understand the world now as it has been affected by those terror attacks.