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Lessons for US and Our Children From 9/11

Everyone has a story about what was happening ten years ago, on that originally beautiful morning that soon turned into the nightmare we now know as September 11, 2001. I was watching live coverage of then President George W. Bush, who sat in a public school classroom in Florida, as he sought to mobilize people behind a consensus that our school crisis needed a major national initiative to ensure accountability for results at an unprecedented level.

After the tap on the shoulder from his chief of staff, the news people interrupted and the rest, as they say, is history. Weeks later, Bush would begin anew with the late Senator Edward Kennedy, House education chair John Boehner, house education ranking member George Miller and others as they forged a new consensus that money without strings, and without a requirement for student results, would no longer be the way our government conducted business.

As No Child Left Behind took hold over many contentious days and nights of negotiation, eventually, and in large part owing to the new found camaraderie that sprang out of the tragedy of 9/11, a new law was born.

Despite its many detractors and some flaws, NCLB then, as now, continues to shine sun on an outrage that should upset the American public at its core, on a regular basis. That outrage — that fewer than half of ALL of U.S. children are not proficient in basic, needed elements of education, and that children of color lag by another 30 percent — is something that we should approach not much differently than as if a foreign power was attacking us right here on our own soil.

In the aftermath of 9/11, we were reminded that generations of students lack a fundamental understanding of history. Evil acts aside, most Americans did not understand why anyone might find our country distasteful, why we are different, and how other nations and communities have not had the benefit of the freedoms that our founders fought to provide. From that day sprang important lessons that should be taught to generations of students across the country.

Today, while U.S. students continue to struggle in geography, civics, and American and international history, the events of 9/11 continue to offer students a chance to put history and world culture in context.

Two documents are critical to that context. The first, from a woman of much history in education herself, author and historian Diane Ravitch offered this just one year after the attacks: “U.S. public schools must reclaim their vital role preparing students to become informed citizens who will preserve and protect democracy.” She offered seven important lessons, from, “It’s OK to be patriotic” to the importance of students learning U.S. and world history. The second is from the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and is their newly published, “Teaching about 9/11 in 2011: What Our Children Need to Know.”

“Those who do not know history are destined to repeat the past.” Today as we prepare for a weekend of commemorations and recollections over the loss of life, innocence and yes, some of our cherished freedom, we need to both learn and remember the values and the facts that make our country great, and yes, even superior.

That is a role for not only our families, but also all our institutions and most of all our schools. Without a solid proficiency in all core subjects, we cannot understand, nor fight against, the causes and results of 9/11.

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