Teaching 9/11 to a new generation of students

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KEARNEY, Neb. (KSNB) - On this day 18 years ago the United States, and the World, changed forever.

UNK professors discuss how to educate new generation of students on 9/11.

The terrorist attacks in the United States, primarily on the Twin Towers in New York City, changed how citizens viewed the world and left many with the memory of exactly where they were and how they felt in the moment and the days following.

Students entering college, and in high school, were not around for the day, or were just one or two years old. The day has become more of a historic and academic lesson for students, and not so much a personal day as it was before.

"Well it's hard. I actually brought it up with my students a minute ago in one of my classes," Associate Professor of political science Chuck Rowling said. "This was 18 years ago, so for many of them, this is about when they were born. I would say, not even until about five years ago did I even think that they didn't know about it. I would reference it and sort of assume, and maybe I shouldn't have even then, certainly not now."

Rowling remembers vividly where he was on this day in 2001, as do many. He was a student at the University of Nebraska-Kearney, where he now teaches, and remembers going to campus to find answers and people to talk with and share emotions with.

Linda Van Ingen, a professor of history at UNK, explains that 9/11 is seeing a generational shift, that is not new to history. Van Ingen compares it to the two World Wars or the Great Depression.

"Students know about it but it's their parents who experienced it or their grandparent, even," Van Ingen said. "In that sense it's like many other historical, big historical, moments in history where kids want to ask the adults, their parents, their grandparents, 'what was the Great Depression like, what was World War II like?' So now we have students asking their parents, 'where were you on September 11th, what was it like?'"

Van Ingen, just like Rowling, remembers exactly where she was on 9/11.

Molly Con, a sophomore at UNK, was one year old when the terrorist attacks took place. She looks back on the day, not remembering anything, but knowing about it from school and her mother.

"She thought the world was ending," Con said of her mother, who was one month away from giving birth to Con's brother.

Both Rowling and Van Ingen admit that teaching this day to students today has become more difficult and changed over time because now they need to start from the beginning. What was America like at the time? What was the Country's relationship with the Middle East? Who was Al Qaeda? All of those questions are discussed.

Rowling says he typically plays a documentary, or shows videos of people affected to bring the human aspect to his students so they can see raw emotion and that this day was extremely difficult for much of the country.

Over 3,000 lives were lost due to the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001, many ordinary citizens. Others included fire fighters, police officers and paramedics.

It took less than two hours for the North Tower to be struck and fall. In that time the South Tower was hit, and fell, the Pentagon was hit and Flight 93 crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.