MADISON, S.D. (KELO) — The September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York happened 22 years ago. Those passing years have made a difference in the way that the event itself is discussed and taught about in schools.
In the immediate years after the attacks, we as a society were in a position where every teacher in a public school was old enough to remember, to some degree, the events of 9/11. Today however, there are teachers in school who may have been as little as a year old when the towers fell.
We spoke with Madison Superintendent and President of the South Dakota Superintendents Association Joel Jorgenson about the changes he’s seen in how 9/11 is discussed today.
Jorgenson has been a superintendent for 26 years in South Dakota, meaning he was in an administrative role on 9/11. We asked what the day was like from an administrative perspective.
“Nobody really knew what was going on for sure once the events happened,” Jorgenson said. “Like everybody else it was just more of a day of shock and watching history in front of us.”
Communication was much different in 2001 than today. Jorgenson talked a bit about the role that played in the day. “We relied on TV and radio,” he said, noting that there was also networking among administrators to see what everyone else was doing.
“At the time, we weren’t 100% sure what was taking place, other than that we knew the buildings had gone down,” Jorgenson recalled. “In the high school — I’m sure the TVs were on like with everywhere, trying to get more information.”
In the immediate years after the attack, Jorgenson noted that there was much more of a memorializing of the event than takes place today.
“Immediately after, we would recognize the day with moments of silence — and as each year went by there was less of that,” Jorgenson said.
When looking at how to teach about the event, Jorgenson outlined how in the elementary school, there’s a lot of focus on citizenship, the pledge and the flag.
“In the middle school, I know we shared some video clips that were available for teachers,” said Jorgenson. “In the high school, they went a little bit farther than just the video clips and what took place. I know in the one history class, the assignment was they have to go interview someone that was alive during the event, and have them explain how that day transpired, how they felt, and how it changed them moving forward — these would be juniors and seniors.”
Though the passage of time has changed the way we approach the history of 9/11, Jorgenson said it’s important to remember it and to give honor to those who were on-site and what they went through.
Jorgenson addressed some of that change.
“Some of our staff right now could’ve been one or two years old at the time and they don’t remember the event — it’s like anything with history. The closer you are to it, obviously the more impact it has,” Jorgenson said. “Years down the road, we’ve got to make sure our students and everyone still understands what took place on that day and how it really did change everything moving forward.”
We asked Jorgenson if there were any other events since 9/11 that have made such an impact within the school setting. “I’d say no. That was a day unlike any other,” he said.
Jorgenson explained that there had never been anything of that magnitude that had happened for generations, and that nothing has come close since. “A few years before that, the space shuttle disaster would be a similar event — but in my life, nothing compares to what 9/11 was like.”