DENVER — David Holt was at college in Southern California on Sept. 11, 2001, when he found out about the attacks.
"I really remember that I was still asleep, I'm not a morning person, and somebody woke me up and said, ‘Terrorists attacked the World Trade Center,' ” said Holt, who was 18 at the time. "Then I remember getting up and wandering down to the commons area where everybody had the TVs on."
Years later, the Colorado native is going on his seventh year of teaching social studies at Arvada High School. His students weren't born yet when 9/11 happened.
“I realized early on – I think it might have been my first year teaching U.S. history – that despite the fact that it really changed their lives, a lot of my students, in fact most of them, didn’t really know what had happened on that day, and none of them really knew what it felt like and what it was like to experience that," he said.
In Colorado, there is no statewide 9/11 curriculum requirement, according to a Colorado Department of Education spokesperson. It's primarily up to the school districts themselves; though, a committee plans to review updated standards of social studies this fall, the spokesperson said.
According to a 2017 analysis, with contributors from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and William & Mary, 26 states included the 9/11 attacks as part of their curriculum standard, sub-standard or as an example.
Holt said that he spends a block period on the attacks and then relates it to other moments in history.
He starts with showing general documentaries on 9/11.
“Then I move straight into news footage of on-air talent as they watch the second plane hit," he said, "and really try to convey to students what that felt like for 200+ million Americans who were all watching at that point to simultaneously realize we were under attack.”
He also adds in the impact that the events had.
As for how students react, he said the lesson can be draining.
“I really take pride in the fact that by the end of that, my students really kind of at least feel more connected and understand that this was a more horrific moment in U.S. history," he said.
While Holt advocates for academic freedom, he said he hopes that curriculum standards are changed to provide an emphasis on mentioning the 9/11 attacks.
“That is the defining moment of the last 20 years as far as U.S. politics and U.S. history go," he said. "What we’re seeing now in world history and in our international policy is still driven almost exclusively by that.”
Across the country, efforts are underway to help teach kids about the impacts of 9/11 in classrooms.
Ameena Ghaffar-Kucher, a senior lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania, along with a team of educators, scholars and other community activists, created the Teaching Beyond September 11 curriculum project.
The project is geared toward high school and college students in an effort to help students better understand the lasting impact of the attacks.
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