Giving terrorism a pass

By Thomas Jipping

Sept. 11, the first anniversary of the terrorist attack on America, is just days away. Marking any anniversary is tough if you don’t understand the original event, and the National Education Association seems bent on making sure we never will.

According to the NEA Health Information Network’s “Remember September 11” website, its materials are supposed to “help young people learn from the Sept. 11 tragedy.” There is something to be learned and the NEA will tell us what it is.

The NEA’s lesson plans, for elementary through high school, presumably tell us what we need to learn. They nearly always describe it as a “tragedy,” a “tragic” or “traumatic” or “catastrophic” event, or a “terrible day.” Individual lessons aim at teaching students to “clarify their understanding of tragic events,” to deal with “an unexpected or uncontrollable event,” and to “compare reactions to tragic events of the past with this event.”

This approach strips the terrorist attack on America of virtually any meaning at all. The family dog getting run over is a traumatic event, Hurricane Andrew was catastrophe, the Senate failing to remove an impeached President Clinton was a tragedy, and just ask a trader at the New York Stock Exchange to describe a terrible day!

Some lesson plans include links to material from what the NEA calls its “partners in educational excellence.” Educators for Social Responsibility, for example, offers some lessons for teachers. It recommends using the song “Don’t Laugh At Me,” creating a “peace place,” and learning more about the Taliban. Sure, that will help.

Then there are some loopy “tips for parents and schools” from Professor Brian Lippincott at the John F. Kennedy Graduate School of Professional Psychology. He warns against blaming groups, especially “Arab-Americans,” but recommends instead a hefty dose of “self-blame.” “Arab-American” students must not “assume blame in order to make classmates feel better,” but the rest of the class must think about what they “could have done.” Won’t that make them feel really bad?

On the one hand, Professor Lippincott says “justice means punishing the real perpetrators.” On the other hand, he and the NEA (partners in educational excellence) try hard to make identifying any perpetrators virtually impossible. Unless, of course, those poor American students – at least the heterosexual, white, Christian ones – end up thinking they are the real perpetrators.

The NEA offers a short list of “great Americans” who “have expressed the foundations of our freedom, rights and responsibilities.” President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. have two items while Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt and Cesar Chavez (huh?) each have one. None of America’s founders – you know, the ones who set up that “freedom, rights and responsibilities” thing to begin with – qualify. Cesar Chavez yes, George Washington and Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson and James Madison no.

The People’s Broadcasting System, er, PBS offers “Tolerance in Times of Trial” for middle- and high-school students. PBS asks about the differences between the terrorist attack on America and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. One huge difference is between the NEA’s treatment of the terrorist attack and FDR’s speech to Congress on Dec. 8, 1941. FDR condemned the “unprovoked and dastardly attack” and a “premeditated invasion.” He vowed that the American people will always remember the “character of the onslaught against us,” would “in their righteous might … win through to absolute victory,” “defend ourselves to the uttermost,” and “make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.”

He did not wring his hands in self-blame – no, he told the truth that the attack was unprovoked. He did not call his cabinet to a non-judgmental discussion circle – no, he called on Congress to go to war. While Educators for Social Responsibility warns that “retaliation can often make things worse,” FDR said America would defend herself.

Finally, it’s a little discouraging that a set of educational materials offered on an educational website contains so many errors. Not the substantive or philosophical errors discussed above, but plain old spelling errors.

Professor Lippincott’s loopy material refers to “this period in out [sic] national life together” while one of the NEA’s senior-high lesson plan teaches about survival in “remote locations” such as the country of “Irag [sic].” Educators for Social Responsibility urges countering the stereotype that “Islam is a relgion [sic] of intolerance” while an NEA middle-school plan urges each student to do “one good thing for tow [sic] other people.” Now that’s a tragedy.