Today I worked with 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders. Which tells me their birthdays fall somewhere between 2002 and 2005. They are studying biographies, so I thought it would be nice if they interviewed each other, wrote the responses, and reported on their partner. I listened as the little pairings spoke with each other.
“I have two families,” said one 3rd grader. “I have three brothers. That’s because I have a old family and a new family. My new mommy picked me. It was in Hawaii. It’s because they were having a sale on little boys, and I was the last one left. So she picked me.”
Honestly, I’ll have to check his file to have any idea what he’s talking about, but he made me laugh. Then they talked to each other about their birthdays. I asked if anyone knew what today was.
“Do any of you know what today is?” I asked. “September 11th? It’s a very famous day here in America.”
They all stared at me blankly. A few shook their heads. Granted, some of my students don’t know their own birthday, but for a minute I felt a rush as strong as a movie flashback. This morning 11 years ago. When I was still a girl. Walking in to high school for a 7am class. Watching my English teacher ignore the class as her eyes stayed glued to the television. Class after class passing that day with students trying to get in touch with people they knew in New York City. Hearing that some were safe, others were still unknown. Watching the images of people fleeing from the city, the black smoke, the timeless moment as the planes struck played over and over again, on the screen and in our minds.
We heard the stories of valor coming from ordinary people. We watched our president mourn, kneel and pray beside victims and new-found heroes. My high school choir traveled to New York that next February to sing at Carnegie Hall. We saw that iconic city still reeling. Signs still posted for missing loved ones. A gaping hole torn through the throbbing heart. Thousands and thousands and thousands of paper cranes.
Today, looking into the eager faces of my young charges, I was brought from my reverie to reality. They don’t know. It was how I received the attack on Pearl Harbor, V-day, the day that Kennedy was shot, Lincoln was shot, the Declaration of Independence was signed… all history. And it struck me how the cycle repeats itself. Someone lived through each of those things. Someone remembered what it was like. As they were lost, the pressing urgency was lost. And the rest was history.
If not the history, then the moral and the theme must stay alive. We have to teach them, I thought. They have to know why we are the way we our. A large reason why our country is the way it is. How life as they know it is the result of sacrifice, and honor, and regular people living their lives and rising to or running from challenges. Making them question: which do they want to be?
In Memory. this page is unedited. please excuse any typos or grammatical mistakes.