Teachers wary of reviving horror

As the world prepares to commemorate the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States that left thousands dead, TES writers find some American schools are taking the event seriously, while others are more concerned with their day-to-day problems

UNITED STATES

ONE YEAR after terrorists wreaked murder and mayhem on America and the world entered a turbulent new era, US schools appear little changed.

Education experts and school officials told The TES that dealing with the perennial problems of classroom overcrowding, dilapidated facilities, and preparing for tests has left little time to reflect on the significance of September 11.

Schools in San Francisco, America's most liberal city, have held special classes to promote ethnic tolerance and combat a backlash against Muslims.

Teachers are preaching the same message in Chicago, one of the most racially polarised cities in the US.

"Schools have been very careful in protecting all students," said Shabbir Mansuri, director of the Council on Islamic Education.

But schools have not been told to shift the focus of lessons or emphasise the teaching of international affairs.

In Los Angeles, home to some of America's most troubled schools, it is business as usual. "We still need to teach kids how to do maths and read, and build 80 new schools because of overcrowding," said Cricket Bauer of the city's education authority.

"There are more pressing problems affecting the lives of our students than September 11."

The authority's priority is tackling a literacy crisis among older pupils with less than one in five 15-year olds reading at the US average standard, Bauer added.

Also topping the to-do list is relieving pressure on staff at 224 schools - more than one-third of the total - operating all year round. Students attend on staggered schedules to accommodate swelling enrolments.

There are no formal plans for Los Angeles schools to mark the anniversary of the attacks beyond optional lesson plans for teachers, Bauer said.

Staff and students in San Francisco will observe a minute's silence, however, while Chicago may offer special lessons on the importance of ethnic harmony.

But in Washington DC, schools will host three days of ceremonies spanning themes of remembrance, appreciation and hope. Six students and teachers from the city died aboard the airplane that plunged into the Pentagon. The group had been on their way to a marine workshop in California.

Education historian Jeffrey Mirel, a University of Michigan professor, said many teachers remain reluctant to raise September 11-related issues. "There aren't many who feel comfortable doing so," he said. "What you will probably see on this anniversary will be discussions on what schools should be doing, rather than what they are actually doing."

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