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Curriculum and Instruction News

Time spotlights work of UW-Madison’s Stoddard, Hess for report on teaching about 9/11

September 12, 2019

Time magazine utilizes the expertise of UW–Madison’s Jeremy Stoddard and Diana Hess in a new report headlined, “9/11 is History Now. Here's How American Kids Are Learning About it in Class.”

Stoddard is an associate professor with the School of Education’s highly regarded Department of Curriculum and Instruction, while Hess is dean of the School of Education and the Karen A. Falk Distinguished Chair of Education.

Jeremy Stoddard and Diana Hess
Jeremy Stoddard and Diana Hess
As Time explains: “It’s not surprising that teaching 9/11 as history is a delicate task. In addition to the emotional burden that falls on teachers who remember that day, the subject matter is sensitive and the images and documents that might be used as primary sources are disturbing. The story is also very much still being written, as the effects of 9/11 on American society continue to evolve.”

In addition, the magazine notes there is no national guideline that states are required to follow in terms of teaching the topic, so lessons will vary depending on the teacher or school district.

Reports Time: “That variation is part of the reason why Jeremy Stoddard, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education, set out to analyze how teachers are talking about 9/11 in classrooms nationwide.”

Time continues: “A new study released this month, on which Stoddard is the lead author, polled 1,047 U.S. middle- and high-school teachers and revealed that the most popular method of teaching about 9/11 and the War on Terror was showing a documentary or ‘similar video.’ The next most cited method was discussing related current events. The third most mentioned approach was sharing personal stories …; Stoddard says younger teachers in particular tend to aim to get kids ‘to feel like they felt that day, to understand the shock and horror people felt that day.’ ”

Time explains how this survey built on Stoddard’s prior research looking at textbooks and classroom resources developed to teach about the event in the first few years after 2001. The report adds how Stoddard and Hess “studied nine of the bestselling high school U.S History, World History, Government and Law textbooks published in 2004 and 2006, and then did side-by-side comparisons between three of them and editions published in 2009 and 2010, noting how descriptions of the attacks evolved.”

The Time report continues: “For example, four of the nine earlier textbooks mentioned the war in Iraq as part of the aftermath of 9/11, but when Stoddard and Hess were doing research in 2005, only one, McDougal Littell’s ‘The Americans’ (2005),got into how evidence for the weapons of mass destruction claims had not yet been found. One 2005 textbook, Prentice Hall’s Magruder’s American Government,’ said that when Congress authorized President George W. Bush to take whatever measures were ‘necessary and appropriate’ to neutralize the threat of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in the wake of 9/11, ‘it was widely believed that the regime had amassed huge stores of chemical and biological weapons’; the 2010 edition deleted the sentence about weapons of mass destruction. In some textbooks, the descriptions of the attacks got shorter as time went on. For example, that 2005 edition of The Americans’ said about 3,000 people were killed in the attacks, and then specified how many were passengers on the planes, people who worked at or were visiting the World Trade Center, and how many were first responders. The 2010 version cut out the breakdown of the casualties.”

“A lot of the main themes that we saw way back in 2003 — in terms of, it’s a day of remembrance, a focus on the first responders and the heroes of the day and the actions they took, the world coming together in response to this horrible terrorist attack — a lot of those themes are still very much the way it’s being taught,” Stoddard tells Time. “Middle schools are focusing a little bit more on first responders and heroes of the day. High school is where you would probably see more of an emphasis on the causes, the events leading up to it and maybe more on the response. Highschool teachers did talk more about the Patriot Act and surveillance and some of those national-security-versus-civil-liberties types of issues.”

To learn more about this important topic and Stoddard’s research in this realm and thoughts on it, check out the entire report for free via this Time magazine web page.

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