To students today, 9/11 is like ancient history
Fremd High School social studies teacher Jason Spoor-Harvey was leading classes Wednesday about Sept. 11, 2001, and he could see the shock and changed perspectives of the students he had that day.
"We're no longer the country that's never been attacked," he said.
Today, Spoor-Harvey no longer teaches students with firsthand experience of the emotional impact of that terrible day -- and the difference is palpable.
The 15- and 16-year-olds in Spoor-Harvey's Multicultural Perspectives class at the Palatine school were only 2 or 3 years old on the day of the terrorist attacks. But while their memories of that day may be unclear, or nonexistent, their entire childhoods and identities were undoubtedly shaped by the attitudes of a post-9/11 world.
"I think it's interesting to hear from them as we get further and further away from it," Spoor-Harvey said.
His students Wednesday began a two-day discussion of the ways the event changed the world -- and their own young lives -- after reading two articles Spoor-Harvey assigned.
The first was a Brookings Institute report on research into American attitudes toward religious freedom. The other was written by half-Arab, half-white standup comedian Dean Obeidallah about his perspective on losing the European part of his heritage in the eyes of others after Sept. 11, 2001.
Spoor-Harvey asked students to use the articles, as well as their own experiences, as the springboard for discussion on how they thought the events of that day made their childhoods different from their parents' or their teachers'.
While the students came to agree that the terrorist attacks gave rise to a great deal of racial, religious and ethnic stereotyping, one student of Korean descent expressed genuine confusion about the degree to which it existed before the World Trade Center towers fell.
Spoor-Harvey reminded students of their prior U.S. history classes on subjects like slavery and the treatment of Native Americans. Such things couldn't have happened without a fundamental belief that there was a significant difference between races, he said.
Today, all Muslims are wrongly being stereotyped as the ones who attacked the United States, one student said.
Another student said attitudes that have trickled down to kids in the post-9/11 world meant that an Arab man walking around Fremd with a visitors badge would likely receive some dirty looks.
Minority students in the class said minority status in white society tends to become one's defining characteristic. A black student said she's often introduced to others as the "black friend" of her white friends. But she added that no one is born with racist attitudes -- such perspectives come from received attitudes.
The discussion became a debate when the Korean-American student suggested that negative attitudes toward Muslims were likely to fade in time, just as other ethnic and religious groups gradually found better treatment in America.
Two girls in the class argued that such attitudes won't change without people working to change them -- the same as always has been.
A boy of Assyrian descent, whose mother was born in Iraq, described how angered he felt when his seventh-grade teacher expressed stereotypical attitudes to her class about the demographic group to which he belonged.
Before the classroom discussion was to continue Thursday, Spoor-Harvey encouraged students to watch President Barack Obama's televised address Wednesday night about the Islamic State. He said current events in the Middle East show how Sept. 11, 2001, is still relevant -- and not yet ready to be taught as history -- 13 years later.
While a general benchmark for when one can look back at a time or event as "history" is after at least 25 years have passed, Spoor-Harvey said such a time is still a long way off in regard to Sept. 11, 2001.