Saturday marks 20 years since the devastating terror attacks that took place on Sept. 11, 2001. In the years not long after the attacks, 9/11 was taught in classrooms around the country as a “current event.” Many students had vivid and personal memories connecting them to that awful day.
Now, 20 years later, the current generation of students has no memory of the World Trade Center towers toppling down on national television. To these students, that terrible moment is not a memory, it’s history.
One of the people teaching these young students about 9/11 is Kennedy Secondary School's seventh-grade American history teacher, Gary Hoffbeck.
On the morning of Sept. 11, Hoffbeck was preparing for his day of teaching. “At that time we had TVs in every room,” he says, “I had it on.”
He saw the first plane crash into the World Trade Center. Not truly understanding what was happening, he continued to watch. Then, the second crash.
“I knew something was different,” he recalls, “I noticed, inside my heart … it was just a switch saying ‘oh my goodness … this is serious.’”
As the day progressed, America, as a country, learned how serious the situation truly was. America was under attack on its own soil. “It became our turn to witness something like that,” says Hoffbeck, “something you only read in the books.”
And that’s where the story now lies for Hoffbeck’s seventh grade students, in a book. An event that seems so recent, so personal, so traumatic to many Americans, is a chapter in the pages of a history book, being carried around in student backpacks.
Hoffbeck doesn’t allow the story to stay shut in a book.
Hanging on the wall in his classroom is a postcard showing the World Trade Center buildings before the attack. It’s a reminder that there was a version of America before 9/11. “(9/11) sure changed the feel of America in our hearts,” says Hoffman.
Students read the data from their textbooks, watch videos and ask questions. Hoffbeck also shares his personal experiences, his memories and his feelings. “A book has a hard time revealing feelings,” he says.
They also share their own stories, usually stories passed down from parents and grandparents, which helps them connect to the topic. “I reinforce the seeds that have been planted by family,” says Hoffbeck.
During those lessons, students are faced with the harsh realization that America’s values are not accepted and celebrated throughout the world. “We do our best to protect each other, but we are still a target,” says Hoffbeck, “I don’t want them to be paranoid, but yet the reality is that we still stand up for things that some people hate.”
Hoffbeck reminds students that we are the people living out America’s values, envisioned so long ago. “Those values haven’t ended,” he says. “I want them to appreciate that we have a great country,” he says. “There are people who may want to take things away, but sometimes you have to make a stand.”
So, as the attacks on 9/11 are remembered, 20 years ago, Hoffbeck reminds everyone, “It’s in our book now. It’s history; but it’s nothing we want to forget.”