Middle School Children Assigned a Writing Assignment – Write a Good-Bye Letter to One Loved One from Twin Towers on 9/11

A middle school teacher asked the students to pretend that they were on one of the hi-jacked planes or in the Twin Towers on 9/11 and to write one letter to say good-bye as a homework assignment to mark the anniversary of 9/11.   These kids are in the seventh grade, that would roughly put them about 11 or 12.  9/11 happened before most of these children were born.

There is an uproar about the assignment.  Many feel that this is very inappropriate and outright ghoulish.  I happen to disagree.  I think this is a good assignment.  One of the things that I feel is vital in education is teaching how to think, not what to think.  This is a way to bring the finality of that tragic event to the people who were killed that day.  As a person who is lets just say older than these kids, I remember clearly that day.  I remember hearing the recordings of calls made from inside the building as well as the planes.  Betty Ong calling the airline emergency number talking about the hijackers and how low the plane was flying.  Simply heartbreaking.  Or the calls from flight 93, ending with “Lets Roll” as the passengers tried to stop the plane from hitting another building, likely the U.S. Capitol or an attempt at the White House.  Simply heroic.

I also believe that empathy is sincerely lacking in our society today.  We don’t put as much value on human life as we should.  I think this teaches these kids to think about that.  To look at their loved ones and come to the realization that on that day, thousands of people knew they were never going to see those people again.  One of the most indelible images of 9/11 are those of the jumpers.  Imagine what those people were thinking while falling to their deaths.

Now, I have spent the majority of my life living outside of NYC and Washington D.C., so 9/11 is very personal to me.  I know people who were first responders, who made it out of those buildings, and sadly I knew someone who died, and I know others who lost a close loved one that fateful day.  But, these kids don’t have that connection.  This assignment may help bring those feelings alive to these students.  The further we get away from that day, the harder it will be to really understand what happened and the shock that people in this country felt.

Again, since I have lived in the areas most directly affected by that day, I look at from that perspective.  These are children from Texas.  Now, as strange as this sounds, I remember having a conversation with a work colleague shortly after the event.  He worked in outside of Las Vegas, and I remember him saying something all the lines of he could only imagine how hard it was for people like me who lived in the D.C. area.  His connection to the event wasn’t what mine was.  I found it to be an odd comment at the time and obviously it really struck me since I remember that conversation all these years later.

Not all parents are upset about this assignment.  One mother read the letter after her daughter went to bed.  The letter was addressed to her.  She said that she cried and cried after reading it and brought her daughter into her bed to sleep with her that night.  Her words “mission accomplished”.

I don’t think this would be assignment that would go over well in the New York City area as it way too fresh for most of the people who live in this area.  The museum isn’t open, the new tower is not yet finished, New Yorker’s still live with the idea that being in that city automatically puts a target on their backs.  But do people who live in smaller towns in more rural areas think about that in the same way?  I don’t think that they do.  So trying to get that to come alive for younger students in those areas must be a very difficult task.  I think this teacher did that.  These children had to really think about what it would be like to be in a building that was on fire from jet fuel knowing that they were never going home again.  They were never going to see their loved ones again.  Of course you can never fully accomplish that, but it at least got them thinking about it.

That is what I expect from teachers, get these kids to think.  Not what they should be thinking.