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Jerry Davich: Educators say fewer kids know about 9/11 attacks

Fourth-graders Miracle Glover (from left) Trinity Joseph Kylie Wilsread together Scholastic News stories about 9/11 attacks HebrElementary School HebrInd. Thursday

Fourth-graders Miracle Glover (from left), Trinity Joseph and Kylie Wilson read together Scholastic News stories about the 9/11 attacks at Hebron Elementary School in Hebron, Ind. Thursday September 8, 2011. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media

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Coming up

For the upcoming 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, I talk to a local survivor who escaped from the 57th floor of the World Trade Center before it collapsed, and how that life-changing event transformed his world.

I also talk with region residents whose lives were profoundly impacted to this day by the rippling aftershock of that day.

And I share my own story of driving to Ground Zero three days after the attacks, and how that unforgettable experience has – and has not – changed my world, and possibly yours, too.

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Updated: November 9, 2011 1:17PM

Chris Robbins asked her class of fourth graders to write down what they knew about Sept. 11, 2001.

Of her 22 students — most who were born after that day — only four knew that the World Trade Center towers in New York City were hit by hijacked planes. Seven students remembered they knew something about it, but only after hearing from their classmates.

The other students, however, were “absolutely sure” they had never heard anything about the terrorist attacks that day.

“I was surprised,” said Robbins, who teaches at Hebron Elementary School.

I’m not.

Although that infamous, iconic, and historic date has been labeled our generation’s “Pearl Harbor,” many of the Northwest Indiana kids I asked had either no clue, or vague details, about it. Even older kids, including teenagers.

“I find it interesting how kids talk less and less about 9/11,” said Sue Ard, who teaches eighth grade at Krueger Middle School in Michigan City. “I was teaching on the day of the attacks and each class since then has always wanted to talk about it. But that interest has been decreasing.”

The history textbook Ard uses notes the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, and the Indiana history book Robbins uses also notes what happened that day. Plus, the Scholastic News magazine Robbins reads from contains an article about the attack’s 10-year anniversary, this Sunday.

But many of the unforgettable yet graphic images and videos from that day are simply too emotional for young students, I’m told by educators.

“The (video) by the History Channel is great, but not for fourth graders,” Robbins said.

Mike Stiles, a fourth grade teacher for the Duneland School Corp., said this is the first year that most of his students will not have been born before Sept. 11, 2001.

To help remind them of the date’s significance, he will be wearing today his NYPD and FDNY caps, purchased in New York City a few weeks after the attacks.

“I was there with my dad for the World Series. Ground Zero was still smoldering,” he said. “I will share the pictures with my class that I took that day and we will discuss the significance of 9/11.”

The significance of that day played a major role in the life – and ultimate death – of John “J.D.” Amos II of Valparaiso, who was a teenager when this country was attacked by radical Islamic terrorists at three different sites that day.

Those attacks convinced him to join the military along with thousands of other teens in the country. He was killed in Kirkuk, Iraq, on April 4, 2004, when an improvised explosive device hit his military vehicle. He was 22.

Day of honor or celebration?

Brian Lynch, a Purdue University Calumet student, was born and raised in upstate New York, so the Sept. 11 anniversary always hits closer to home for him.

“For nearly a week, the entire world seemed to shut down. All America could do was watch the footage again and again. We wore our grief and confusion like a funeral shroud. And I’m not sure we’ve ever really stopped.”

Lynch, of Hammond, said there’s a fine line between honoring the 2,700 lives lost that day versus inadvertently celebrating the day.

“Unfortunately, it doesn’t always feel like there’s a distinction,” he noted. “We relive the heartbreak by playing footage of the towers falling like it was a big-budget snuff film.”

“I’m not saying we should ignore the day, or pretend it never happened, but can any wound heal if someone relentlessly tears out the stitches? Theday should be remembered, and those lost should be honored. But it shouldn’t be the circus of tragedy we have turned it into.”

Kayla Greenwell, a fellow PUC student, was just 9 years old at the time yet respects the unforgettable nature of what happened that day.

“Even in a society where memories are shorter than a green light at U.S. 30 and Route 41, this is something that can never be forgotten,” said the now 19-year-old St. John teen.

But, in hindsight, “It was just something I watched on TV as a confused child,” she said.

Daisy Heath, a sophomore at Hebron High School, was in kindergarten that historic day.

“Through the years of growing up, I have realized the significance of what actually happened that morning. I am more hurt now than I ever was back then.”

Here is a sampling of what a few of her sophomore classmates had to say, echoing teenagers from across the country, I’m sure.

Katie Clemens: “As I grow older, I realize I have become a part of history. I lived through a day that will never be forgotten.”

Tylor Elkins: “Compassion, bravery, and honor. These words truly sum up Americans when we are knocked down and are forced to work together.”

Michael Creighton: “That day, the invincible nature of our nation dissipated instantly. The event was like a wake-up-and-smell-the-coffee moment.”

Kenn Struven: “September 11 was just a normal day until it was defiled by abnormal people who used our own emergency hotline, 911, to tell us that we were targets, all of us, within its enemy’s grasp.”

Shelby Yankauskas: “This accident will only make our country stronger in the long run, to keep us prepared for what might happen next.”

Matthew Variot: “I believe this tragedy has brought our country even closer together.”

You’ve got to admire their youthful idealism, huh?

On the flip side, Carrie Martin-Smith, a Portage High School teacher, overheard a student say, “Oh boy. Here we go again, more 9/11 coverage. Man, that happened 10 years ago. Get over it already.”

Martin-Smith noted, “They were only 6 years old at the time. They really have no idea of the significance. Such a shame.”

True, it is a shame to a degree. But we should keep in mind that such youthful indiscretions and attitudes also come with an eye to the future, not a foot stuck in the past.

As Sue Ard put it, “It’s sad and OK at the same time. It must be how the teachers felt as our country left Pearl Harbor in the past. Everyone must learn to move on, and our children help us do that.”

Visit Jerry’s blog at, his Facebook, and Twitter at @jdavich

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