On September 11, 2001, Americans watched in horror as terrorists attacked New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Killing nearly 3,000 people.
An overwhelming majority of Americans old enough to remember the day vividly recall what they were doing and where they were when they heard the news of the September 11 attacks.
However, more and more Americans today were either too young or not yet born on that fateful day in history to have any personal recollection of it.
Reviewing public opinion in the United States over the past two decades since 9/11 reveals how a traumatized nation briefly came together in a spirit of sadness and patriotism. How the public initially rallied behind the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but support waned over time. And how Americans viewed the threat of terrorism at home and the government’s steps to combat it.
U.S. foreign policy and America’s place in the world have been called into question as the country struggles to come to terms with the tumultuous withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan.
After thousands of lives lost (including over 2,000 American service members) and trillions of dollars in military spending, a new survey from the Pew Research Center finds that 69% of U.S. adults believe the United States has largely failed to achieve its goals in Afghanistan.
Reflections On The 21st Anniversary Of The Terror Attacks
It’s a query that countless people have kept coming back to over the past two decades. It’s how we connect as we remember September 11, 2001, the day of one of the worst attacks on the American people in their country’s history.
It seems like there’s always one moment in history that changes the course of a generation. Everyone at the time had somber memories of tragic events like the attack on Pearl Harbor and the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
If we were around at the time, we can probably recall our general surroundings, our activities, and the method by which we learned the news. 9/11 was unprecedented because it was the first time in history that death and destruction on such a massive scale were actually televised and updated in real-time.
The attacks have not been forgotten for 20 years. Everyone in the United States was affected by the events of September 11th, 2001. Whether they were physically present at the Twin Towers or the Pentagon or were thousands of miles away.
We want to take some time to think back on it and record it for posterity. To illustrate the pain and agony, we’d like to dive into some shared narratives related to the event.
So, Where Were You On The Fated Day Of 9/11?
People worried about relatives who worked in the towers or who couldn’t get through on the overloaded phone lines. Terrifying evacuations, arduous walks, and eerie subway rides were the result.
Regarding the aftermath of 9/11, some educators and students looked back with nostalgia on how Americans came together and questioned whether or not such displays of unity would be possible today. Others argued that the attacks had the opposite effect, pointing to the rise in Islamophobia and the costly and divisive wars that are only now coming to an end.
Chalkbeat reached out to people who were in class on that day to reflect on their experiences. To share what they believe today’s K-12 students should know about the generation-defining terror attacks. What you’re reading is what they said, with a few alterations for clarity and length.
1. In his junior year at Curtis High School on Staten Island, Alex Tronolone served as the school newspaper’s photographer. He was pulled from his classes after the first plane hit the north tower to take pictures of the aftermath. Tronolone saw a small plane as he went up to the roof, where the janitors were looking at the towers.
“When I finally got to the roof, you could tell it was more than that. While I was up there, the first tower fell. At first, it looked like water was being used to put out the fires, but as the smoke spread and cleared, it became obvious that the tower fell. After that, I returned to class, incredulous. I remember looking at my watch to note the date because I knew it would be something that would be remembered.”Tronolone is an educator from Staten Island.
2. Barbara Gottschalk taught sixth grade for the Warren Consolidated Schools district in Michigan’s Flynn Middle School. As the morning unfolded, school administrators instructed teachers to ignore the news and continue classes as usual.
“The message was to continue on and not let the students know. At the end of the school day, the principal came on the intercom to announce after-school activities had been canceled. One of my students said, “I wonder why they’re canceling everything.” That’s how protected we’d managed to keep our students. Our principal wanted the students to learn about this from their family members. To this day, I admire how my principal handled this.”Gottschalk is retired and lives in North Carolina.
3. When Alyson Starks was in fifth grade, her math teacher, Ms. Jeffries, would not knock before entering the classroom. This was at Mt. Juliet Elementary School in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee.
“Ms. Jeffries told Mrs. Hahn something behind the piece of paper as if to tell her a secret. Mrs. Hahn rolled in the TV — those big ones, strapped to a rolling cart with the VHS that never worked — and turned on the news. Later that day, I remember getting off the bus and my parents being home. They were never home when my brother and I got home from school. The TV was on, and I’ll remember my mom’s face as she turned to notice us walk in for the rest of my life.”Starks is a senior graphic designer in Nashville.
4. Mike Brown, a sixth-grade teacher at Berkeley Middle School in Williamsburg, Virginia. He was in his homeroom going over the day’s schedule with his students when they heard a commotion outside.
“Middle school teachers very quickly are able to decipher kids running in the hallway. This was not that. I heard an “oh my God,” at which point I walked quickly to look out into the hallway. One of my teacher teammates was approaching the room as I was opening the door. She had a startled look on her face and asked if I was watching TV. When I turned it on, we were immediately heartbroken for the people that were on the plane as well as those in the building that was just hit. But we still thought it was a tragic accident. That only lasted for a minute as the news camera focused on the burning building caught a glimpse of a second plane hitting the second tower. Immediately we knew our country was under attack, and we were sitting in the middle of a military town. A number of my students’ parents were living in the neighborhood solely because they were enlisted in the military.”Brown is the director of new school development at New Schools for Alabama. He lives in Memphis.
5. When the NYPD ordered the evacuation of Health Opportunities High School in the Bronx. Sonia Algarin was working there as a school counselor. Temporarily, the city had halted all public transportation.
“How could we dismiss students who now had to walk home during a crisis situation? When would their parents get home if they had to walk from their jobs? Was it safer to keep them at the school? Our school was across the street from a highway, the Major Deegan. The police said we needed to seek shelter at Hostos Community College three blocks away. We had to walk all 500 students through the busy streets. Some were scared there could be another bombing or another airplane crashing into Yankee Stadium 10 blocks away.”Algarin is a school counselor in the Bronx.
6. Considering how 9/11 affected the South Asian community in the United States, fifth grader Sunny Asra of Queens’ P.S. 220 Edward Mandel School muses.
On Sept. 13], schools had a two-hour delayed opening. Still having not processed the events, it started to hit us when the kids met each other and our parents hugged one another, and we kind of did the same. In the following weeks, major hate was thrown at the South Asian community due to a lack of knowledge about religion and race. Being that I had a turban, I was even more fearful. Many innocent South Asians were killed, stabbed, and beaten.Asra is an operations manager for the New York City Department of Education. He lives on Long Island.
7. Elementary School’s Elvis Santana. 66-year-old Bronxite who listened to the news that day while hiding under his desk recalls the event. His classmates openly worried about the safety of their families and made numerous attempts to contact them.
It was and still is the most devastating storyline of my life. One moment you’re in class learning, and the next, you’re thinking about death, violence, religion, war, and safety all at once. As a Bronx native, by the age of 8, you have already previewed violence and discrimination. The incident of 9/11 broadened that violence and triggered something we weren’t prepared to deal with. To anyone born after 2001, it was a testament to how America handled hatred and violence. In the end, we failed in achieving our objective, and today we see that in places like Afghanistan.Santana is an education outreach director in the Bronx.
8. Teacher of third graders in East Palo Alto, California, Dale Chu, learned of the terrorist attack while listening to a local Spanish-language radio station on the way to work. Before entering the teachers’ lounge and seeing the TV, he had no idea the disaster was so extensive.
For the most part, we decided not to address it with our students at the time because of their age and because the feelings were all so visceral. I also vividly remember my brother in Los Angeles calling me that morning, and me stepping out of my classroom to take it. He told me that America was now at war.
9/11 is one of those rare life-defining moments. I can’t believe it’s been 20 years. The recent image of the Afghan boy falling from the U.S. Air Force jet over Kabul brought back for me — in stark relief — this picture of a falling man from the World Trade Center. Most of all, I remember how I felt in the following weeks. The sense of national pride and unity, like when George W. Bush threw out the first pitch at the World Series game in New York City. Given today’s raging culture wars and swirling currents of polarization, we could use a little bit of that now.Chu is an education consultant in Parker, Colorado.
9. Dean of Students at Bronx School of Law, Government, and Justice on September 11 was Latasha Fields-Frisco. Kindergarten had just begun for her own daughter.
It was a regular morning that ended with a bomb threat to our school. We evacuated and ensured all of our students were safe. I lived in Harlem at the time and was unable to drive home. The bridges were closed off. I walked from the Bronx to 122nd Street in Harlem. It seemed like the longest walk ever. I was happy to reach home safely to see my family and just broke down in tears.Fields-Frisco is an assistant principal in the Bronx.
Personal effects of the attacks were also more profound in the cities that were actually attacked. Two-fifths of city folk, compared to a tenth of those in small towns, reported experiencing significant life changes.
The aftereffects of September 11 were widespread and took a long time to fade. Following the event, 50% of adults in the US reported that the country “had changed in a major way.” This percentage increased to 61% ten years later.
80% of Americans said 9/11 was the most significant thing to happen in the country that year. High percentage of people named it as the most significant event in their own lives over the past year (38%). Whereas, others named more common occurrences like births or deaths.
Although it has been 15 years since the 9/11 attacks, the public still considers them a major historical event. Most Americans of a certain age remember the 9/11 attacks vividly. And their historical significance dwarfs that of any other event in most people’s lifetimes.
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