It is a challenge to present truth on controversial issues amid a thickening blizzard of rapid-fire
Internet chatter, extremist talk radio, crass special-interest publishing and mass media that
serve ever bigger corporate masters and ever fewer points of view.
|Tourists gather in December 2003 to gaze somberly at the eerie gap where the World Trade Center stood.
Doug Stuart, political-science
professor and former Clarke Center executive director, embraced such a challenge in 2001, immediately
after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Stuart, who saw the content of 9/11 information come
under rapid assault from hardening political extremes in the months after the terrorist attacks,
launched the Teaching 9/11 Web site, www.teaching9-11.org,
to provide comprehensive and unbiased material for teachers to use in building lesson plans.
was a bold move in a highly politicized atmosphere. Soon after the attacks, educators began
to hear from various interest groups with ideological agendas. From the right came calls to
quickly fix all the blame on terrorists and to promote an America-first-and-foremost approach.
From the left came a quest to identify root causes of terrorism, even if some of those causes
were lodged in U.S. foreign policy, and to promote globalism, tolerance and conflict resolution.
Both sides laid claim to the truth. Stuart sought to preserve facts and to give beleaguered
educators a safe haven dedicated to nonpartisan information.
“In the best of all possible
worlds,” Stuart says, “every teacher is balanced.
Because he or she does not know what the particular inclinations of the students are, a conscientious
teacher wants to give those students the opportunity to make judgments for themselves. I’m
one of those people who greatly enjoys when one of my students says, ‘Well, I’ve
taken you for two semesters now, and I’m still not sure what your politics are.’ The
fact that I’m consciously aware of my responsibilities as a teacher, to try to not bully
my students and not brainwash them, I think is just good teaching.”
Since launching the
Web site in late 2001, Stuart and his colleagues have been pleased to receive numerous compliments
from teachers and professional education organizations. The Dickinson team had also developed
an impressive network of contacts, including museum curators, journalists and education experts,
who were using the 9/11 site as a resource.
In 2004 Stuart decided to build upon this success
by organizing a major conference in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution on the topic “Teaching
9/11: The Role of Media, Museums and Schools in the Construction of National Memory.” The
program, which occurred in September, brought together several nationally known experts, including
James Fallows of The Atlantic and Marvin Kalb of Harvard University, to discuss this issue.
The program also honored a diverse quartet of teachers who took innovative approaches to the
It is ironic that a program designed to encourage a balanced approach to teaching about
the 9/11 disaster has not been safe from ideological criticism. Following the Smithsonian conference,
one Web site (Front Page Magazine) decried the conference as too tilted toward teachers who
attacked U.S. policy in their lessons. The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation parroted that opinion
under the headline “Anti-Americanism 101.” In turn, the Fordham Foundation’s
own right-leaning approach to teaching 9/11 was called “profoundly anti-intellectual” by
the group Rethinking Schools Online and been attacked by the National Council for the Social
So goes the tug of war.
Stuart stresses that it is no easy task for teachers to find the right
voice on hot topics like 9/11. “I think it’s extremely difficult,” Stuart
one of the reasons why I see a comprehensive Web site as a really valuable resource. The alternative
is to make believe in the classroom that 9/11 didn’t happen, and that is as problematic
as not really putting enough thought into it before confronting it in the classroom.”
can remain a formidable force in the teaching of 9/11 and the attacks’ complex
aftermath, which now stretches from Afghanistan to Iraq and beyond. Creating a new position
that would serve as a liaison between the college’s vast resources and the educational
community beyond Carlisle is the key, says Michele King Hassinger ’80, Clarke Center
director and collaborator on the 9/11 project.
Stuart also hopes that the momentum can be maintained. “At
this point,” he says, “we’ve
gained some critical mass and some networking as a result of the Web site and the Teaching
9/11 conference, so that when people talk about this issue it is not uncommon for someone to
say, ‘Oh, be sure to check [out] Dickinson’s Web site.’ ”
can fully prevent an event like the 9/11 attacks from being bifurcated in the public debate.
When asked during the conference if two national memories have emerged from the polemics surrounding
9/11, journalist Fallows knowingly smiled and said, “Like the
War Between the States?”
His reference hinted at how, after 140 years, the American Civil
War still can be taught using two different tracks—one from the North, one from the South.
truth of 9/11 may be no less complicated and, over time, no less elusive. •