and High Schools to Observe 9/11
By JENNIFER MEDINA
CHAPEL HILL, N.C., July 24 - The 1,100 students
who attend Earlham College in West Richmond, Ind.,
can expect to spend at least part of Sept. 10 in
workshops that recreate what they were thinking
and doing on that date last year - and
considering, in hindsight, how narrow their views
of the world were.
In Normal, Ill., the 150 students at the high
school, like those at dozens of high schools in
other states, will set aside five days around
Sept. 11 for a course developed at Brown
University that discusses questions like the
differences between a freedom fighter and a
At the University of North Carolina here, all
3,500 freshmen will be required to read excerpts
from the Koran, unless they write an essay to
request an exemption, to prepare for small
two-hour discussion groups that all are expected
to attend, beginning late next month.
Across the country this summer, colleges, high
schools and even a few elementary schools plan to
confront and commemorate the anniversary of the
Sept. 11 attacks in ways that they say would have
been impossible in the emotional time immediately
afterward. The forums will afford students and
teachers opportunities to explore subjects like
Islam and terrorism and to debate the merits of
the United States' actions around the world before
and after Sept. 11.
Such plans have not come easily. School and
community officials have spent hours agonizing
over how to deal with those topics with
"There are some who say that we have to
maintain some respect for the dead by not asking
these questions," said Kelly Keogh, an
international relations teacher at the high school
in Normal, 100 miles south of Chicago. "But
aren't we doing them a better service by not
giving simplistic answers?"
Last fall and spring, Mr. Keogh said, he and his
colleagues spent so much time dealing with
students' feelings that there was little chance to
discuss United States policy in Afghanistan, for
example. Now, he said, enough time has passed to
embark on a more substantive approach.
Many school officials have contacted their
counterparts in New York City and have been
surprised to learn that no elaborate plans have
been made there. The New York Board of Education,
after consulting child psychologists, is advising
principals to observe the date in the most
unobtrusive way possible.
"There are students here who witnessed
tremendous trauma, not just on television or in
ripples, but by seeing what happened or facing
their own personal losses," said Francine
Goldstein, chief executive of school support
services for the city's Board of Education.
"All of this can drag up some very difficult
symbolism for both the children and the
As students lined up this week in Chapel Hill to
buy copies of "Approaching the Qu'ran,"
a translation of 35 selections from the Koran,
with commentary, a lawsuit was filed to absolve
them of their reading assignment. On Monday, two
members of a Virginia-based Christian group, the
Family Policy Network, and three unnamed freshmen
sued in Federal District Court in Greensboro,
saying the university had violated the separation
of church and state by making the book required
The president of the group, Joe Glover, said he
was particularly worried about the essays that
students would have to write to be exempted from
discussing the Koran.
"Can you imagine an 18-year-old little girl
required to bring a sheet of paper to a discussion
group defending her most deeply held
beliefs?" Mr. Glover asked. "How can
that be her first academic experience?"
The university chancellor, James Moeser, said
reading the Koran was no different from reading
the Iliad or Greek myths. "When we do that,
nobody ever accuses us of proselytizing
Zeus," Mr. Moeser said.
University officials declined to comment on the
suit. Lawyers expect a preliminary hearing to be
held by the middle of next month.
At Chapel Hill, as at other colleges, freshmen
have been asked over each of the last few summers
to read the same book at the same time. When panel
of professors and students began meeting in
January to choose the title for this year, there
was immediate consensus for choosing something
related to Sept. 11, even though members said they
knew that some people would oppose the choice.
On the sprawling campus, where Muslims represent
fewer than 1 percent of the student body, several
dozen students interviewed this week said that
they were proud of the choice.
"For those who say this offends them,"
said Jen Daum, a major in international and
political science who is president of the student
body, "I say, `Welcome to college.' "
On the high school and middle school levels,
teachers and administrators say the anniversary is
a "teachable moment," a time when
students will be eager to explore the events and
understand their context.
That, in large part, attracted Mr. Keogh and his
colleagues to the five-day terrorism curriculum
developed by the Choices 21st Century Education
program at Brown. More than 1,000 high schools say
they intend to use the curriculum, which includes
background readings, case studies, examination of
cartoons and a simulation involving policy
Broaching the subject of Sept. 11 in elementary
school requires more delicacy, educators say, but
that does not mean the anniversary will not be
discussed. Child psychologists at Yale say they
have received calls from elementary schools in New
York City, as well as in Connecticut, Virginia and
Maryland, for advice on the anniversary.
Classes will proceed as scheduled for many school
districts and universities, but at least 20
colleges, have canceled classes for Sept. 11 in
favor of prayer services and teach-ins.
At Earlham, the most educational activities will
be the day before, as professors press students to
acknowledge how na´ve they were on Sept. 10 last
"We should be thinking about how we can be
change agents," said the college's provost,
Len Clark. "We have to think constructively,
not just mourn or remember."