Education experts discuss teaching 9/11


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On Tuesday afternoon, 18 University of Iowa education students sat captivated as their professor asked them to remember the events of 9/11.

Bruce Fehn, a UI associate professor of teaching and learning, asked the class members to form discussion groups, in which they reported on interviews they previously conducted with family members or friends regarding 9/11.

Though most students were able to engage in conversation about the terrorist attacks, Fehn reminded them they would soon be responsible for educating a growing population of students who do not remember the attacks.

And if the group activity seems a bit elementary, that’s because it is supposed to be.

The exercise — aimed at equipping young teachers with the tools necessary to tackle the sensitive and complicated issues associated with 9/11 — was part of Fehn’s Instructional Methods for Social Studies Teachers course.

“One of the largest challenges is understanding the complicated nature of the event and enabling students to understand it,” Fehn said after the course.

And to help his students learn how to do just that, Fehn explained the concept of “Powerful Social Studies” — learning how to engage a group of students in “meaningful, integrative, value-based, challenging, and active” learning environments.

And as one of those students, Jennifer Connelly said she was eager to learn how to approach the subject in future classrooms.

“I really want to be sensitive to everyone and everyone’s family experience,” she said, noting that the effects of the attack are still recognizable today. “Many people know someone directly affected.”

Nancy Bruski, a clinical social worker from Evanston, Ill., echoed that belief, noting that a child’s developmental level and family background would also need to be taken into consideration when teaching about 9/11.

“Teaching about 9/11 requires the same degree of educational expertise and sensitivity … that any moment in history requires,” she said.

Future students will not have the same emotional connection to the date that adults have developed, she said.

Fehn is confident about his students being able to engage their future pupils.

“They are extremely bright students,” he said with a smile. “Embarking on a difficult job.”

Still, though, Connelly feels the weight of her chosen future profession.

“When you’re teaching history, it’s not just the past,” she said. “It’s the present as well. [9/11] went from one isolated event to spanning 10 years. It’s still going on.”

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