When school begins in September, the terror attacks of 9/11 and their aftermath will become part of Holocaust educators’ curricula in many of the state’s public schools, thanks to a new curriculum designed in part by the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education.
The new subject matter’s inclusion will be optional, but it will be an important link to the state-required teaching of the Holocaust and genocide. It will examine atrocities that happened decades and even centuries before today’s students were born.
The extensive new curriculum was developed during the past three years by a coalition of the Holocaust education commission, the Families of September 11, and Liberty Science Center.
It was launched officially on July 14 in a ceremony in Jersey City, in the science center’s auditorium, two months before the 9/11 tragedy’s 10th anniversary.
On hand along with some 50 elementary, middle, and high school teachers were state officials as well as the science center’s board chair and the family of a North Caldwell man who died in the World Trade Center.
“Students learn when they are motivated, when they see the relevance to their own lives in situations. Often this is very difficult to do with events that involved great suffering and great horrors,” said David Hespe, a vice president of the science center.
Immediately after the terror attacks, the museum provided refuge and counseling for victims’ families just across the Hudson from the demolished Twin Towers.
“The events of 9/11 fundamentally changed the way these students lived. These events cannot be downplayed. They must be openly discussed,” Hespe said.
‘Moment in history’
Commission executive director Paul Winkler was a prime mover in developing the 9/11 studies program.
“The curriculum should teach not to hate. Yes, those perpetrators need to be prosecuted, but we should not judge all by the acts of a few,” he told the audience. “That is what this curriculum is about.”
Later, in an interview with NJ Jewish News, he said lesson plans were drawn carefully to avoid stereotyping all Muslims based on the actions of a small group of fundamentalists.
“The curriculum specifically goes out of its way to demonstrate never to judge any group of people. There may be some extremists who disagree, but we feel this is a very fair representation,” Winkler said.
Christopher Cerf, New Jersey’s acting education commissioner, said the curriculum would address questions about “conflicting cultures, about religion, about terrorism, about morality, and what is the role of revenge or redemption or forgiveness.”
The curriculum’s 58 lessons begin in kindergarten and end with the senior year of high school.
In the lower grades, said Winkler, “we do not teach about the horrors; we teach understanding and appreciation of others.”
At the event, flanked by her three children, was MaryEllen Salamone of North Caldwell, whose husband, John, was killed in Tower One of the World Trade Center.
Her suggestion of a 9/11 curriculum launched the project three years ago.
Tearfully, Salamone introduced her three children, calling them the inspiration for the teaching program. One by one, they took her place at the podium.
In simple and articulate ways, they each took a turn praising educators of the past, present, and future.
“9/11 is now a moment in history, and it is something we need to teach in our classrooms,” their mother said from the podium. “If there is ever a chance that we are going to defeat this monstrosity, then we have to teach the leaders of tomorrow and give them the tools to do it.”