On September 11th, 2001 at a little after 9 in the morning, I walked through the front doors of my high school. I had PE first period and was looking forward to changing into my gym clothes and getting a game of touch football started on the back field with a few of my boys who were in the class. Before I made it out of the busy main lobby of the school, a girl named Cara hung up the payphone that stood outside the auditorium doors and was yelling, “They flew planes into a building in New York City, yo. They flew planes into a building. Shit is crazy.” I knew Cara a little bit through a class we had together and some friends we shared. She was usually loud and spoke in hyperbole often. The lobby slowly decongested as kids made their way to first period. I guess other kids knew Cara a little bit, too.
Outside, we lined up on the track for some warm-up laps. A few guys were talking about what they had heard but no one definitively knew anything. “Mr. Eder, you hear about what’s going on in New York?” I asked. “Nope. Two laps. Then get with a partner and toss the ball until you hear my whistle. Go.”
After gym class, there was an eerie buzz back inside the school. I walked into my history class and took a seat at one of the desks near the window. No one in the classroom had a binder or a textbook or a pen out. Ms. Dallon rolled in a TV cart while another teacher helped hook up a cable wire from the wall to the back of the screen. “I’m sure that by now you’ve heard that America is under attack,” she asserted. She found CNN on the TV and sunk into the top of her desk. “We’re not going to get any work done today,” Ms. Dallon added. “You guys should probably just head home.”
The next day, I did another two warm-up laps in PE and tossed the ball with a partner until I heard Mr. Eder’s whistle. I went to history class and took notes on the Great Depression. I did similar things at school the next day and the day after that until that Tuesday, September 11th eventually became “9/11” and a tragic moment in history dissipated into a “war on terror”.
Almost 20 years later, a less apocalyptic but similarly sinister incident occurred a little over 500 miles south of where the Twin Towers once stood. On January 6th, 2021, home-grown terrorists invaded Capitol Hill. In that moment, teachers galvanized. Twitter became an epicentre for dispensing educational ideas that could be used in the wake of the attacks. In the days that followed, teaching resources were shared through facebook groups and staff email chains. It seemed like our regularly scheduled “learning” stopped, even for loose moments, to learn, understand, and digest what had just taken place.
Twenty years ago, we missed opportunities to teach about oppression, privilege, and racism in the exact moments that we saw them unfold. Twenty years ago, we fell short on the occasion to dispel Islamophobia during the moments it began to arise. But the needle has moved. I was taught to “leave personal politics in the parking lot with the car before stepping into a classroom” some ten years ago in teacher’s college. I wouldn’t dare a teacher preparation educator to utter those words to tomorrow’s teachers, today.
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