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Remembering 911

Updated: Nov 21, 2022

The Museum Came to Us

Any other year, I would have taken the kids on a field trip to the museum. In 2020, the museum had to come to us. My children got a history lesson 2020 style, and it was one of the best ever. Corona has forced us to re-think how we do everything, and that’s not necessarily bad. No need to load onto a bus or get permission slips signed this year. I just needed a curator willing to make a quick video. That’s just what Meredith Nichter with the SC State Museum did.

From the safety of our classroom, where we sat three feet apart and wore our masks, my kids learned about a steel girder on loan from the New York Port Authority. Nichter shared other 911 SC connections. One of the antennas on top of world trade tower was made with materials from Columbia’s own Kline Steel. Nichter told the students about three men who were not on planet Earth the day of the bombings. One was South Carolinian and former astronaut Frank Culbertson. Culbertson was on a mission with two Russian cosmonauts on September 11. He had a unique perspective as he took photos and videos of the smoke pouring from the twin towers.

Family History

My colleague had the idea to have students interview someone about September 11 memories. In fifth grade, some made videos, and some took notes. The stories were amazing.

One dad told of being in Las Vegas with friends. Since all flights were cancelled, they purchased a car and drove home to SC.

Another father was doing medical mission work in Central America. He heard the news broadcasts in Spanish and remembered nurses and assistants and patients all saying, “Lo siento,” (I’m sorry). Hearts broke all over the world that day.

One boy interviewed his mother who worked at a federal building. She remembered evacuating the on-site day care center. A mother who worked at the state house explained security changes brought about because of the September 11 incidents.

One mom, attending college in Washington, DC, looked out her dorm room to see smoke rising from the Pentagon.

One family friend was actually under New York City, riding in a subway, as the attacks happened above.

One mother living in NYC counseled survivors.

Many students shared military connections. One mom was a freshman at the Naval academy. Several fathers and uncles and grandfathers were deployed to the Middle East as a result of 911.

One mother who was teaching music at the time told how she came up with a playlist of songs to help her students get through that scary, challenging time.


The stories from 2001 highlighted many changes over the last almost twenty years. The concept of a hall phone in a dorm was lost on my students, most of whom own their own phone. They were shocked and horrified to learn that in the olden days a group of college students shared one community phone.

I saw looks of confusion as a dad told that he initially heard about the attacks while riding in a taxi in San Francisco. Very few of my students have ever ridden in a taxi. Some didn’t even know what one was, but they all knew about Uber.

The kids didn’t understand why almost every single person mentioned huddling around a television. Our sources of news have certainly changed in 19 years. One student brought in a September 12, 2001 copy of The State newspaper. The children were fascinated and asked if they could pass it around.

Universal Themes

I listened or read 67 interviews on September 11, 2020. Locations changed, but most told the same story. Initial reaction? Shock and confusion. Next came fear and sometimes anger. By September 12, almost every person interviewed mentioned national pride and told how the community came together. Almost every story included reference to some act of heroism. This time, nineteen years ago, most citizens were proud to be Americans.

Many people mentioned watching Bush’s reaction when he heard about the attacks while reading at an elementary school. Several people praised the speech he gave at ground zero. Several families complimented Obama on his speech announcing the capture and death of Ben Laden. Nineteen years ago, we enjoyed a kinder, gentler political landscape for sure.

I’ve been teaching for more than 30 years, and this might have been my best “remember 911” lesson. It was certainly unlike any other years. In 2020, I had some kids sitting in the classroom watching the videos together on my board while our virtual friends watched the videos on their i-pads while at home.

I told my students one day their children or grandchildren might interview them about their corona experiences. The next generation will want to know what it was like to be a kid in a pandemic. I told them I hoped they remembered watching these 911 videos. I told them I hoped they put much thought and care into their answers. I think they will.

*This lesson would not have happened without the planning of my co-worker., the 6th grade social studies teacher. She did all the work. I'm just telling the story.....

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