In Hudson, Wis., Mark Yell will teach Sept. 11 as history. In New
York City, Deborah Straughn Moore only wishes she could.
Emotions associated with the day are still too raw for Ms.
Moore's students, who watched from the windows of their Brooklyn
school as the twin towers fell, before learning of relatives who
But 2,000 miles away, Mr. Yell worries the attacks are already
fading from his students' thoughts. So on Thursday he'll show a
video of the World Trade Center site immediately after the attacks,
and he'll read excerpts from a firefighter's account of rescue
No matter their distance from ground zero, schools around the
country were put in the difficult position of serving as emotional
triage units in the weeks after Sept. 11. With the passage of time
comes a different but still challenging task: how to recall the
painful day and yet also step back to assess its historical
"I think there's a fine line we walk," says Cricket Kidwell,
director of curriculum for the Trinity County, Calif., Office of
Education, which serves 2,000 rural students near the border with
"It's a line between showing an empathic response to students on
one hand," she says, "and drawing a larger picture that gets beyond
the emotion and gives us an economic and political perspective on
That balancing act is most difficult in schools around New York
City and Washington, where hundreds of students were directly
affected by the attacks and still grieve for relatives.
Ms. Moore says gaining emotional distance from the event for the
sake of level-headed analysis is not an option in her social-
studies classroom in Brooklyn's Boys and Girls High School.
To mark the first anniversary of the attack, she urged students
to put their feelings into creative form in songs, poems, and
pictures. This year, she's tacking on some detached discussion along
with the remembrance. She asked students to interview family members
as eyewitnesses. Then they will discuss the causes and outcomes of
"Children need to have some kind of connection to it before they
can make sense of it all," Moore says. "They get more involved in
the discussion when they get into it that way."
Cathartic outpouring will also come first at Bertie Backus Middle
School in northeast Washington, which lost a social-studies teacher
and a student on the flight that hit the Pentagon.
Students will gather at a memorial on site as the school bell
rings periodically throughout the day. Groups will take turns
watching a homemade video of students and teachers remembering the
two who were killed. Teachers were still planning their lessons
right up until the last moment, according to Principal Alfonzo
The challenge in suburban and rural schools far from those cities
is making the event seem real to students who may never have seen a
skyscraper or stepped in an elevator. That's the case in Trinity
County, where the landscape is marked by a fading timber industry
and closed mills.
For the teachers who aim to stir emotions as an attention-
getting path to doing historical analysis in class, the question
becomes which themes may elicit the most student interest.
Immigration issues strike a chord with California students, says
Kidwell, so teachers there will discuss how to manage the influx of
foreigners as a way to make 9/11 seem concrete once again.
Similarly, communities with military bases may look at overseas
deployments as a segue into how the attacks affected Americans'
everyday lives. One Kentucky teacher will ask students to compare
and contrast 9/11 with Pearl Harbor as historical events. …