911 attacks prove a lesson too far

24th June 2011 at 01:00
Teachers fear provoking racism and Islamophobia, research reveals

Teachers are "concerned" about covering the September 11 terrorist attacks in lessons because they fear sparking Islamophobia and racism, researchers have found.

Schools view the events as still too "sensitive" to be discussed easily in the classroom, according to a report commissioned to mark a decade since the incidents in New York and Washington.

Most teachers have "reservations" about teaching children about 911 and would welcome further training, according to academics from London University's Institute of Education (IoE) and staff from research company EdComs who carried out a mixture of qualitative and quantitative work.

Staff in multi-ethnic schools said they found it difficult to teach children about the attacks because they were concerned about dealing with the possible expression of Islamophobia, anti-American feeling and anti- Semitic racism.

They also felt the topic would cause "sensitivity" among Muslim or Afghan pupils and provoke strong views from students with close connection to the armed forces.

Some teachers, particularly those in drama, art, English or PSHE departments, also admitted "knowing very little" about 911 and felt they would have to learn more in order to be confident teaching the topic.

Heads of citizenship and PSHE in schools where non-specialist teachers had to teach the subjects said they had "serious concerns" about untrained staff covering the topic and the "disastrous impact" that might have.

Nearly 200 history, religious education, PSHE and citizenship teachers were surveyed by researchers between July 2010 and January 2011. They also spoke to staff from the Schools Linking Network, a body set up to promote community cohesion, the Citizenship Foundation, the Association for Citizenship Teaching, and the British Council.

Overall, 64 per cent of teachers said they had taught or discussed 911 with children in the "past year", but only half said it had been a formal part of a lesson.

A total of 81 per cent of the surveyed teachers said "breaking students' stereotypes and prejudices about other cultures" was a challenge when teaching about 911.

Researchers also spent time in eight schools: four in London and one each in Leeds, Worcestershire, Oxford and Surrey.

Teachers in two of the visited schools expressed "serious resistance" to teaching 911, and staff in another showed "some resistance". But researchers found many were prepared to teach the subject and saw a need for it to be taught.

The study was carried out for the 911 London Project, an educational charity set up to help spread awareness of the events of September 11.

Academics at the IoE have now developed educational resources to help teachers cover the attacks in lessons.

Alison Kitson, director of education for the 911 London Project and faculty director at the IoE, said teachers need to "grasp the nettle".

"All teachers said the topic would cause sensitivity, despite their type of school. All said this was due to their intake of pupils, even if they had high proportions of Caribbean, Muslim or white pupils," she said.

"But children themselves were keen to avoid stereotypes when talking about the issue, and dealt with it in a much more mature way than teachers would give them credit for."


Pupils' views

Children's comments to researchers about terrorism:

"They say that all terrorists are Muslim, and they did the terrorist attack because of their religion. Whenever you think of a terrorist, you automatically think of them as like a Muslim; it sounds really bad but it is like a stereotype. Like, whenever it is on the news, you always see Muslim people, for example the London bombings and 911."

"If it really could have been planned by the Government? I don't really believe it. I think it was a terrorist thing but . when you see YouTube clips, like one of my mates told me to look at . And the things they say, they are believable."

"If Muslims kept themselves to themselves - not saying that they should not be free to go out and around, yeah, but if they kept their religion on the downlow - people wouldn't be able to say `I hate Muslims, blah blah blah'. And also things like the 911 happen and the bombs happen, (and this) is the reason why people feel they have the stereotype that all Muslims are bombers and that is why they are protesting against it.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today