For many, the mere mention of Sept. 11 conjures up strong sentiments of fear, pain and confusion. But Parsippany contributors to the recently completed New Jersey 9/11 curriculum pointed out that the majority of school-aged children today were in diapers at the time, if they were born at all.
Karen Levine, middle school committee coordinator for the project, titled “Learning from the Challenges of Our Times: Global Security, Terrorism and 9/11 in the Classroom,” and a retired teacher of 39 years, said finding a balance between the historical and the emotional was difficult while working on the middle school curriculum.
“You have to realize the students going into middle school now have no memory of 9/11]. To them it is a historical event, it’s what Pearl Harbor was to another generation…It’s a difficult balance to try and find some of that emotion as well as the history,” said Levine.
But Concetta Donvito, a 9/11 curriculum writer and former Parsippany-Troy Hills director of curriculum, said they found this balance by breaking it down to age-appropriate lessons that dealt with main themes such as human behavior, historical context of terrorism, remembrance and creation of memory, and building better futures.
“We felt that each theme was addressed at appropriate levels. The hardest part was getting the framework and those themes and deciding what was so important for kids to know and understand about this horrible event and what can we do to make them go forward without a feeling of hopelessness,” said Donvito.
Levine said that many of the lessons in the curriculum are presented at the most basic level, appealing to students’ citizenship and general human behavior.
“It’s not just about 9/11 as an isolated event but about terrorism in general and what makes people act the way they do,” said Levine. “The main thing is we’d like to inspire children to become upstanders in their community. They don’t have to save the world, but they can be the people who stand up to bullies.”
Levine said that writing this curriculum for students who live in this area, who may have been directly affected whether they remember it or not, added a level of difficulty to the project that other areas of the state and country may not have had to consider.
“You have to think in terms of sensitivity since we’re so close to New York City,” said Levine.
But Donvito added that because the event was such a major event across the nation, location to the city didn’t play too big of a part. In fact, she hopes that this curriculum will serve as a model across the country.
“We tried to create a model that was not only applicable to the people in the New Jersey or the metropolitan area, but that other states might want to look at as a model for addressing 9/11,” said Donvito.
Donvito noted the strong presence that local teachers had in the creation of this curriculum.
“I’m very proud of the fact that we have three teachers from Parsippany who participated in the writing [of the curriculum], and they did an outstanding job piloting the lessons,” said Donvito, who added that the Parsippany teachers will be featured teaching some of the curriculum lessons on an episode of NJEA’s Classroom Connect on or around the 10th anniversary this September.
Overall, Levine said that one of the many challenges of writing the curriculum was trying to cover everything, including anticipating the future.
“We worked on this curriculum for three years. We wrote it, revised it. We thought it covered an awful lot, but with the events recently in Norway, it reminds us that you could add lessons to it," Levine said.
"Unfortunately, there are still more lessons.”