Students emotionally connecting less to 9/11 as years go by, teachers say

Teachers reflect on the September 11th attacks and how students have changed since
Published: Sep. 10, 2020 at 9:37 PM EDT
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PARKERSBURG, W.Va (WTAP) - In September of 2001, Barry Kuhl was entering his fifth year of teaching at Parkersburg High School.

“When it happened, we weren’t watching TV or anything like that. But, there was a teacher that came across the hallway and asked me to come out in the hallway, so I came out and she said we’ve had a tremendous accident. I said here? I didn’t hear any sirens or anything like that. She said no, a plane has just hit the tower,” said Kuhl.

This year marks the 19th anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. Only the oldest of high school seniors were alive for the attacks, but most weren’t even born yet.

For those who were alive and conscious, the day is unforgettable.

“It was a very, almost unreal type of atmosphere. We didn’t really know what to do,” said Kuhl.

Every year PHS holds a ceremony honoring victims of the terrorist acts, including PHS graduate Mary Lou Hague, who died in the attacks. But, as time goes on, teachers say students are less emotionally connected to the event.

“I’m not real sure that they can be. If it happened today, I’m not real sure how these students would be affected by because as I said before, the students back then were very mature and as time went on we have students who have been given a lot more, things don’t seem to affect them quite as much as they did back then,” said Kuhl.

Other teachers have experienced a similar change when recounting their experience.

“As the kids have become further and further removed from it, it’s just so theoretical for them. There’s no connection to it because they have never experienced anything quite like that,” said English teacher Joe Stephens.

Stephens has even experienced backlash from students who don’t agree with the actions the United States took after the attacks.

“I remember the first time… it was several years later… that I got some kind of blow back from students. I had one young man in particular, who after I finished my story, his response was basically the United States did this. It was the United States’s fault. We were imperialists. Where’s the memorial for all the innocent Middle Eastern people who were killed in this war that was our fault?

What I was saying was never political in nature, but I remember everyone else in the room just being aghast,” said Stephens.

“We have to stand on a very, almost unstable bridge between our conversations with the students and how we feel about things. There are certain issues I just refuse to talk about with the kids because still to this day it is very emotional,” said Kuhl.

Stephens says political divisiveness is making already difficult topics harder to discuss in schools, but he thinks students may be able to relate more to what happened in 2001 after experiencing a life changing event. He believes the COVID-19 pandemic may help some students contextualize other historic events like 9/11.

“I really think this event, the COVID, the pandemic is going to put it into a different perspective,” said Stephens.

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