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Commentary: Growing up after 9/11

Photo courtesy of US Environmental Protection Agency.

By Lauren Ortego, Point Park News Service

A small boy plays by twin reflecting pools that have been placed in the middle of New York City. As he plays, his mother scolds him, saying he shouldn’t be so loud and hyper in such an environment. He asks why, and the faces of those around him grow solemn as his mother recounts the events of September 11, 2001.

Born from 1998 to 2010, Generation Z – the Millennials’ successors – have grown up in a post-9/11 America – making their views on topics such as Islam, terrorism and domestic safety very different from that of their parents.

Many millennials can recall the events of 9/11, with some already being in elementary and middle school during the attacks. Generation Z, however, were toddlers at oldest.

So, how do we, as a country, approach the topic of teaching this new generation about the events that shaped the nation at the turn of the century?

“In elementary school, we just learned that planes had struck the towers, not who exactly did it or why,” Heather Peloza, a freshmen screenwriting major, said. “It was probably fifth or sixth grade when I finally found out the whole story.”

Not unlike many other major historical events, both teachers and parents want to educate students, but not to the fullest extent. Explaining a terrorist attack can come across too heavy to explain to young kids, but with every year drawing another anniversary, an explanation is deemed appropriate.

“At their age, nothing like that has happened to them, so they won’t be able to relate the severity of the event,” Kelsie Carr, an education major specializing in pre-K through fourth grade said.

What makes 9/11 stick out from all the other lessons being taught in the average U.S. History class is its unsettling modern aspect. The teachers in these classrooms remember this event, they have personal accounts of the day it happened, they remember where they were, and what they felt and saw.

This isn’t to say that all of Generation Z will simply toss these historic attacks out the window alongside their knowledge of the Revolutionary War, but it makes their understanding of it much different from that of their parents, teachers, older siblings, and others who were alive on that fateful day.

“I do think that as time passes, people become calloused to the horrible things that have happened in history,” Beth Ryce, a high school American Literature teacher, said. “For example, when we talk about Pearl Harbor, we are no longer taken aback because so much time has passed and, sadly, humanity has managed to inflict more and more horrible things on even bigger scales.”

The callousness Ryce mentions was shown in an extreme manner on April 13, 2014, when a young internet user tweeted to the American Airlines verified account: “hello my name’s Ibrahim and I’m from Afghanistan. I’m part of Al Qaida and on June 1st I’m gonna do something really big bye.”

The teen immediately received backlash from both the twitter community and from the airline itself.

The emotional disconnect between the new generation of Americans and the events that changed the lives of the old may be a present and ever-growing distinction, but it will never be forgotten as a national tragedy.

“I’ve always just seen it as a historical event,” Peloza said. “I knew that I was alive during it, but I’ll never truly recognize the tragedy that it was really was.”

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