Teaching about Terrorism, Islam, and Tolerance with the Internet. (Reflections in a Time of Crisis)

Article excerpt

I'M WRITING THIS COLUMN on the one-month anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A week ago, at the Texas Council for the Social Studies annual meeting, I heard a woman say while introducing a speaker, "This is a great time to be a social studies teacher." Perhaps it is, but I'm not so sure. While America and the world reeled in shock, most teachers whom I talked with were struggling with how to present and discuss issues related to the attacks, terrorism, Islam, and discrimination against Arab Americans and Muslims. Many felt that it was impossible to provide any information more comprehensive than what the television news programs were offering. Most said that discussions of tolerance or understanding of Islam would be rejected by students and their parents. Moreover, nearly every teacher I talked with was reluctant to spend too much class time on the topic because it would take away time to prepare their class for the TAKS, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

Unfortunately, throughout the nation, teachers are struggling with the same issue. In Indiana, September 11 was the day when many tenth graders took the high-stakes ISTEP+, the test that they must pass to graduate from high school. Schools had permission to delay the test until another time, but many school districts chose to administer the test anyway.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, I've heard many comparisons to Pearl Harbor, another deadly sneak attack on the United States. Yet, as many historians have argued, some clear signs were overlooked or misinterpreted that could have given us warning about Pearl Harbor. The same could be said about September 11. A month before the attack, the Drudge Report (www.drudge.com) had provided links to stories that said that a major attack against "U.S. interests" would occur before the end of September. I told my secretary and wife about these stories but thought they were referring to "interests" overseas, such as embassies or business locations. But even more official warnings came out long before the Drudge Report predictions. Read the chilling quotes below:

   Between now and 2015 terrorist tactics will become increasingly
   sophisticated and designed to achieve mass casualties. We expect the trend
   toward greater lethality in terrorist attacks to continue. The probability
   that a missile armed with WMD (weapons of mass destruction) would be used
   against U.S. forces or interests is higher today than during most of the
   Cold War and will continue to grow.

   And, even more frightening:

   The combination of unconventional weapons proliferation with the
   persistence of international terrorism will end the relative
   invulnerability of the U.S. homeland to catastrophic attack. A direct
   attack against American citizens on American soil is likely over the next
   quarter century. The risk is not only death and destruction but also a
   demoralization that could undermine U.S. global leadership. In the face of
   this threat our nation has no coherent or integrated governmental
   structures.

The first quote was from the January 2001 CIA report, Global Trends, 2015. Based on symposia at major universities and think tanks throughout the U.S. and other countries, this report ought to be required reading for every social studies teacher. It can be found at www.cia.gov/cia/publications/ globaltrends2015. Its predictions, not always pessimistic, about world food supplies, global warming, water supply, and population growth should be incorporated into social studies classrooms in the middle and high school grades. The second quote, which seems darkly on target today, is from the U.S. Commission on National Security, 21st Century. Chaired by former senators Gary Hart and Warren Rudman, the report recommended the creation of "a new independent National Homeland Security Agency." President Bush has created such a position but has not given it the authority that the Commission recommended. …