MIAMI (CBSMiami) – For people who were school-age the day of the September 11th attacks 2001, many can remember vividly what happened that day in their classroom.
But most students of this generation, from kindergartners all the way up to college students, were not even born yet. It can present teachers with the challenge of making students feel a connection to that defining day in our nation's history.
"Today, we are going to begin talking about September 11th.This year is the 20th anniversary," Stephanie Hernandez announced to her class.
She teaches middle school at Somerset Gables Academy, a K-8 public charter school.
"They know the gist of it," she explained. "They know how Twin Towers fell, and the buildings collapsed, and many people passed. But they don't know exactly why it happened, or what caused it to happen, and how it affected us as a nation."
For her 11 and 12-year-old students, 9/11 is not a current event. It is a textbook history lesson.
"I think, at first, they're a little bit apathetic, because they think 'oh we've already learned about this. Why do we need to continue learning about this?' As I've begun talking to them, I think they have been able to understand why it's important and gain a little bit more feeling toward the subject," Hernandez says. "We are going to talk about why it has affected so many people who live in this country, not just people in New York City on that day," she said. "And also how it's affected many changes in our country, like TSA."
As part of the lesson, she is using the fictional book "Eleven," which is written from the perspective of a boy their age. She also plays a BrainPOP video that shows a cartoon depiction of 9/11.
"It's pretty crazy to me how many people and officers went inside the building just to help others," one of her students said after watching the video.
All students at Somerset Gables, starting in Kindergarten, take part in the yearly moment of silence on Patriot Day. Hernandez says that is when the concept is first introduced, but they do not go into details about what happened until students are older, like the ones she teaches.
Florida does not have a set standard for teaching about September 11th or the War on Terror. The State Department of Education says it is largely up to the school or the teacher's discretion how to present the material. They do follow the U.S. high school history standards, which include learning about foreign and domestic terrorism and the global impacts.
Meanwhile, at FIU, a more advanced discussion takes place in Professor Brian Fonseca's class.
"There's no doubt 9/11 had incredibly consequential impacts in the evolution of American foreign policy," he said.
Students are broken up into three groups to hold a mock debate.
"It's regarding the pullout of Afghanistan troops currently by the Biden administration," said student Kyomi Cabral, "Whether or not it's a good policy decision to do that, whether or not we should or shouldn't pull out, or whether or not we should send more troops."
Even though they are college-aged, Fonseca has a similar challenge to Hernandez with his class. Many students were only a year or 2 old or, in the case of Cabral, not even born yet.
That is why, he said, his objective is to show the attack was not just an isolated incident 20 years ago. Rather, it caused a series of events that still affect us today.
Of course, it led to America's longest war, with the ending playing out in recent weeks. That is something they were able to witness.
"This is how we continue to maintain some understanding of historically important events within the American security context," Fonseca said.
From the earliest understanding, to eventually applying the lessons through a modern lens, 9/11 was a day that changed and continues to change the course of American history.
Only 14 states actually require 9/11 instruction as part of the curriculum. Florida is not among them.
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