Teaching 9-11

Instead of focusing on emotion reactions to the Sept. 11 attacks, Bay Area teachers try to use the anniversary to teach critical thinking and historical perspective, says this San Francisco Chronicle story. Judge for yourself whether they’re teaching critical or politically correct thinking.

“To what extent are the events of 9/11 being used as a platform for the upcoming presidential election? To what extent should they be?”

Those are questions that teachers at San Francisco’s Leadership High School came up with a few weeks ago as they thought ahead to the infamous anniversary. The questions are listed under the heading “Practicing Critical Thinking,” and on Monday afternoon, the entire school will spend an hour considering those and similar questions.

. . . Amy Punkar, chairwoman of the social studies department at Jefferson High in Daly City, plans to pose two questions to her advanced-placement U.S. history class:

“What has changed globally since 9/11?” and “What are some of the political consequences within the United States since then?” (Punkar’s hint to students reading this — think civil rights.)

. . . One of the more striking examples took place in Room 201 on Thursday afternoon at Washington High School in San Francisco, where teacher Martin Wolf deftly transformed a discussion of plot, setting and character in “The Lion King” into a focus on plot, setting and character on the world stage.

“In Iraq, we also have a setting,” Wolf told the 10th-graders in his ethnic literature class, pointing out that the conflict, complications and climax of fiction are no less present in Baghdad and Washington.

“Yesterday, George Bush said that the 1,000 soldiers who have died in Iraq died fighting terrorism,” Wolf said. “I wonder — did they? Does George Bush believe this? Let’s go back . . . ”

He then recounted the events since Sept. 11 using slides filled with facts, photos and the vocabulary words “mujahedeen,” “theocracy” and “secular.”

. . . Later, Gwendolyn Samson, 15, said she found the lesson valuable because she hadn’t known that Iraq was not responsible for Sept. 11.

Students like Gwendolyn were his “target audience,” Wolf said — the reason the lesson was important.

“We need to be an informed citizenry,” Wolf said. “I’m planting the seeds.”

An informed citizenry that uses a 10th grade literature class to discuss a Disney children’s movie? Don’t they read any literature?

BTW, the first teacher quoted is my daughter’s former civics teacher and Mock Trial coach, Suzan Stewart, though her first name is misspelled in the story. Go, Paly Mock Trial!

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Comments

  1. mike from oregon says:

    Critical thinking???? I think NOT – more like, programmed thinking. Let us supply you with a bias and incomplete set of ideas, then you spit back to us the only real logical conclusion that you could come to based on these incomplete facts.

    “. . . Later, Gwendolyn Samson, 15, said she found the lesson valuable because she hadn’t known that Iraq was not responsible for Sept. 11.

    Students like Gwendolyn were his “target audience,” Wolf said — the reason the lesson was important.”

    On the one hand, it was great that Gwendolyn finally found out that Iraq wasn’t DIRECTLY responsible for 9/11. Do you think that they (the folks putting on this dog-and-pony show) ever told her who WAS responsible? Do you think they told/showed the connection to Bin Laudin and Iraq that the 9/11 commission found? Do you think they pointed at that finding and all the other reasons that we did go into Iraq? Were the children asked to evaluate is Iraq and/or the US and/or the world better off with Saddam out of power?

    This wasn’t critical thinking, it was an indoctrination.

  2. They weren’t discussing a Disney movie. They were discussing climax, conflict, turning point, foil, building action, resolution of the conflict and other elements of literature found in a children’s story everybody was familiar with.

    The fact that Gwendolyn didn’t know Iraq wasn’t responsible for Sept. 11th is a perfect example for the need to equip students with critical thinking skills.

    The threat of jingoism is this country is far more dangerous than the threat of terrorism.

  3. ^^Yawn.

  4. Anonymous Coward says:

    “The threat of jingoism is this country is far more dangerous than the threat of terrorism.”

    WTF?

  5. Yes, Richard Wright is wright. If anything’s going to kill us, it’s jingoism. Terrorism is merely a construct for establishing right-wing fanatical patriotism, and Hitler, I mean Bush, is the leading jingoistic cheerleader, using his powerful penchant for demagoguery to stir up the masses into a flag-waving frenzy. If you don’t believe Wright, I guess you haven’t seen that paragon of critical thinking, “Fahrenheit 9/11.” I’m cancelling tomorrow’s lesson plans in order to indoctrinate, I mean teach, my sophomores and juniors about how to think critically concerning this overblown terrorism threat and to resist the tide of nationalistic zealotry that is sweeping the nation like a prairie fire.

  6. Those who cant think critically, teach it.

  7. “The threat of jingoism is this country is far more dangerous than the threat of terrorism.”

    Excuse me?????

    Those who don’t have a cogent explanation for their opinions resort to hyperbole and histrionics. Is this the sort of critical thinking skills you want to teach our children?

    Don’t you think that terrorism is really extreme jingoism combined with the willingness to kill innocent people? I will never understand this sort of moralistic, self-righteous double standard. Asymmetrical warfare loves people like you.

  8. Like a previous poster, I’m glad that Gwendolyn learned that Iraq was not directly responsible for 9/11. Like that same poster, I wonder whether there was any attempt to actually teach critical thinking skills that go beyond simplistic causality; whether a distinction was made between responding to an event and attempting to prevent future events; whether there was any discussion of the possible pros and cons of reasserting a doctrine of preemption in military matters; whether there was any discussion of the concerns about nuclear, biological, and chemical weapon proliferation in the wake of the end of the Cold War; whether there was any discussion about Libya abandoning its nuclear weapons program, Syria entering talks with Israel, girls going to school in Afghanistan, Pakistan cracking down on its terror groups, and so on.

  9. Rather than teach critical thinking starting with ignorance and pure opinion, they should start with basic history, geography and science. However, some teachers don’t let basic knowledge and “mere” facts get in the way of playing the critical thinking game. My son’s first grade teacher called these facts a couple of years ago “superficial knowledge”. But then, my son had to show the student teacher where Kuwait was on the map.

  10. The American public generally believed there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq because that’s what they wanted to believe.

    They saw substance in Powell’s PowerPoint presentation to the UN where there was none.

    This is all due to a failure of critical thinking.

    Dick Cheney is saying that Iraq was behind Sept. 11, a distortion that even Powell can’t stomach. How can he get away with such statements? Facts are not important when you wave the flag hard enough.

    Now, is jingoism more of threat than terrorism? In my opinion, yes. Why? Well, figure this. More people died in the war with Iraq than died in the Twin Towers on Sept. 11th. That’s hard data. You can look it up.

    I’m afraid of terrorism but I think there’s a greater chance that our sons and daughters will die in unnecessary wars on foreign shores than here at home from an act of terrorism.

  11. Mad Scientist says:

    Robert,

    Last I checked, the President and his cabinet are sworn to protect this nation, not any other.

    That’s a hard fact. You can look it up.

  12. Robert Wright wrote:

    This is all due to a failure of critical thinking.

    I don’t think anyone would accuse me of being a shill for the public education system but to place the blame for the war in Iraq on the public education system? That’s a little over the top, don’t you think Robert?

  13. robert wright writes: more people died in the war with Iraq than died in the Twin Towers on Sept. 11th.

    Perhaps, but there was an orderly evacuation and much personal heroism. Lest one forgets: roughly 50,000 people worked in the World Trade Center. More at the Pentagon and still more in DC, even if the precise target remains unknown. Not to mention scores of airline passengers. It wasn’t for lack of trying on the hijackers part.

    For an overview, I highly recommend viewing http://attacked911.tripod.com although perhaps too overwhelming for a classroom.

  14. Richard Nieporent says:

    Robert Wright,

    The threat of jingoism is this country is far more dangerous than the threat of terrorism.

    Why don’t you tell that to the relatives of the 3000 people who died on 9/11.

    More people died in the war with Iraq than died in the Twin Towers on Sept. 11th.

    I’m really sorry that so many of your Iraqi Bathist comrades were killed in the war. Too bad you don’t grieve for the Americans that were killed. And don’t tell me you are concerned about all people being killed, because that is a boldface lie! Saddam Hussein was responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis but somehow those deaths don’t bother you in the least.

  15. Mad Scientist: The fact that the president is sworn to protect the nation does not justify acts of war against nations that pose no threat. When I have a bad day at work I might kick my dog, but that doesn’t make it right. It’s called displaced aggression and your statement is a classic fallacy. It shows a lack of critical thinking.

    Allen: I didn’t mean to imply that our school system is at fault.

    Chris: I agree with you. Thanks for the link.

  16. Mad Scientist says:

    Robert:

    Unless you had special information that was not availble to the US (as an aside, even Bill Clinton believed Saddam to have those weapons), French, German, Russian, Polish, Israeli, British, and every other civilized country that showed that Saddam (a) had WMD that were not accounted for, and (b) rightly believed that if he had them he would either use them or sell them, then I stongly suggest that you produce it now or just shut the hell up and save yourself the embarassment of continuing to prove to everyone here what a fool you are.

    The fact that no WMD were found is incredibly easy to debate after the fact. Saddam was told numerous times to either produce the WMD or credible proof that they were destroyed. In the event he would do neither, his choice was made explicitly clear. He choose poorly. His people suffered because a fascist dictator who did have ties to al Queda (even though al Queda could not be directly tied to 9/11, the 9/11 Comission report confirmed the existence of al Queda ties to Saddam) put his own self interest ahead that of his victims.

    Your statement lacks any foundation of thinking, let alone critical thinking. Would you prefer the Iraqi people still be subject to Hussein’s rule? That is the thrust of your argument.

    But, what can one expect when people like you are delightfully unencumbered by facts, reason, or logic?

    Quite frankly, I am not looking forward to another millenium when religous fanatics control everything, as they did during the Dark Ages.

    Are you?

  17. Discussing war and terrorism with the likes of Robert Wright is a waste of breath. He is concerned only about deaths caused by Americans, not by America’s enemies, much like the anti-war crowd of the 60’s, whose silence in the wake of the Khmer Rouge genocide was deafening. Those deaths were not relevant to them. Neither was the death and suffering visited by the North Vietnamese upon the South Vietnamese people. As for 9/11, people like Mr. Wright probably “reason” that the US deserved it anyway. Patriotism is jingoism, preemption is neo-imperialism, Bush is Hitler. Save your breath. Leftist ideology is a religion that transcends fact and reality.

  18. The use of ad hominem does not reflect well on one’s critical thinking skills.

  19. Mad Scientist says:

    Where did I use an ad hominem? Please be specific. Show us the power of your critical thinking skills.

  20. Mad Scientist says:

    Robert:

    I also, upon reflection, found it amusing, but not unexpected, that when faced with a vigorous examination of your so-called ideas, you take on a hurt attitude, as if I somehow attacked you personally.

    I merely asked you quite bluntly, to “put up or shut up”.

    Since you obviously have no rejoinder to any of the substance of what I posted, then I guess I was successful in getting you to “shut up”.

    Such is the nature of defending the indefensible.

  21. Mad Scientist, you may indeed be good at your game but we’ll never know because you’ve fouled out.

    Badabing, you bring up a good point about the Khmer Rouge. Yes, there are knee-jerk leftists, and many of them during the 60’s embraced the Khmer Rouge, at least initially. And that was, of course, shameful.

    You suspect I’m more concerned with the deaths caused by American foreign policy than I am with the deaths caused by Saddam. That’s true and I’m glad you see it. That’s the second thing we agree on.

    I know that leftist ideology can be a religion that transcends fact and reality and as a leftist, it pains me when I see it. However, at the moment, I’m more concerned with the distortion of the right wing since they are currently in power and creating the most harm.

    I happen to like Fidel Castro. But I know some people who like Fidel so much that they will deny the existence of political prisoners.

    Ideology is dangerous when it transcends reality. Right or left.

  22. Mad Scientist says:

    Robert:

    Tell you what. Let’s just put Saddam back in power, rearm his military, put the Baathists back in power, take off all the UN restrictions, and rebuild the country for him free of charge.

    Would that salve your co-called conscience?

    And you claim I somehow “fouled out” without giving a specific example. As I stated: “What can one expect when people like you are delightfully unencumbered by facts, reason, or logic?”

  23. RW wrote:

    “I happen to like Fidel Castro. But I know some people who like Fidel so much that they will deny the existence of political prisoners.”

    Thank goodness you’re not one of them! So communism is good as long as you don’t have political prisoners? They are prisoners on their own island, but I guess that is not political!

    You are entitled to your own opinion (You really need to discuss this idea with your buddy Fidel.), but this thread was about using current events to teach critical thinking, even though the students do not have enough basic knowledge to make that work.

    RW originally wrote:

    “The fact that Gwendolyn didn’t know Iraq wasn’t responsible for Sept. 11th is a perfect example for the need to equip students with critical thinking skills.”

    Garbage In – Garbage Out, it doesn’t matter how much critical thinking you apply. Do you “critically” think that applying critical thinking skills will make up for a lack of knowledge? What other “facts” does Gwendolyn not know about? How is “critical thinking” going to teach her these “facts”? Who is going to decide on these “facts” and teach them to her? You? Your “facts” are good and the Republican “facts” are bad? Even if you could get a group of people to agree on these facts, what makes you think that a session on critical thinking is a good way to teach these facts (history and geography)? Do you think that the way to teach critical thinking is by sitting around in class arguing over opinions and “facts”? Assuming that the students had a reasonable knowledge of history and geography, wouldn’t it be better to assign positions to students, make them go home and do research, and then make a presentation and defend thier position to the class? Critical thinking does not mean forming an opinion.

    You seem to be very opinionated and also very willing to impose your “facts” on students during a critical thinking session. That is not critical thinking. That is scary.

  24. RW wrote:

    “I happen to like Fidel Castro. But I know some people who like Fidel so much that they will deny the existence of political prisoners.”

    Thank goodness you’re not one of them! So communism is good as long as you don’t have political prisoners? They are prisoners on their own island, but I guess that is not political!

    You are entitled to your own opinion (You really need to discuss this idea with your buddy Fidel.), but this thread was about using current events to teach critical thinking, even though the students do not have enough basic knowledge to make that work.

    RW originally wrote:

    “The fact that Gwendolyn didn’t know Iraq wasn’t responsible for Sept. 11th is a perfect example for the need to equip students with critical thinking skills.”

    Garbage In – Garbage Out, it doesn’t matter how much critical thinking you apply. Do you “critically” think that applying critical thinking skills will make up for a lack of knowledge? What other “facts” does Gwendolyn not know about? How is “critical thinking” going to teach her these “facts”? Who is going to decide on these “facts” and teach them to her? You? Your “facts” are good and the Republican “facts” are bad? Even if you could get a group of people to agree on these facts, what makes you think that a session on critical thinking is a good way to teach these facts (history and geography)? Do you think that the way to teach critical thinking is by sitting around in class arguing over opinions and “facts”? Assuming that the students had a reasonable knowledge of history and geography, wouldn’t it be better to assign positions to students, make them go home and do research, and then make a presentation and defend their position to the class? Critical thinking does not mean forming an opinion.

    You seem to be very opinionated and also very willing to impose your “facts” on students during a critical thinking session. That is not critical thinking. That is scary.

  25. Mad Scientist, you want an example of a foul? How about calling somebody a fool?

    Steve, you write:

    >>Do you “critically” think that applying critical thinking skills will make up for a lack of knowledge?>How is “critical thinking” going to teach her these “facts”?>You seem to be very opinionated and also very willing to impose your “facts” on students during a critical thinking session.

  26. Mad Scientist says:

    Robert:

    Asking someone to refrain from proving he is a fool is far different than calling said individual a fool. Please try to apply your critical thinking skills to what I just said.

    My exact quote: “…I stongly suggest that you produce it now or just shut the hell up and save yourself the embarassment of continuing to prove to everyone here what a fool you are.

    While I may have implied that I think you are a fool, there must be some doubt in my mind, as I am clearly asking you to please not prove it to confirm my worst suspicions.

    I believe this is along the lines of what Twain said (and I may be paraphrasing): “Better to keep your mouth shut and have people think you are a fool than to open it and prove them correct.”

    I also see where you continue to evade any rational debate of the points I made. When you are ready to discuss facts, please try to respond.

    It ought to be amusing.

  27. I think debate can be spirited without being rude.

    It’s interesting that you would quote yourself saying “shut the hell up” as you maintain that your discourse is sufficiently civil.

    As a student of mine, I would not try to indoctrine you, but I certainly would insist that you behave.

  28. Mad Scientist says:

    Robert, Robert, Robert.

    I simply asked you to either put up or “shut the hell up”. I did not tell you to “shut the hell up”. Perhaps “shut the hell up” is a little too strong for you; maybe you would have found “shut up” acceptable.

    But since you refuse to respond to any of the facts I guess I was sufficiently sucessful.

    As a student of mine, I would force you to respond directly, rather than trying to hide behind a facade of hurt feelings.

    And the last thing I need is a lecture on manners or civility from the likes of you.

  29. Cousin Dave says:

    Robert, so it’s OK with you if Castro has political prisoners? So Saddam’s mass torture operation is OK with you as long as no Americans sully Iraqi soil? You aren’t a fool. You are evil incarnate. You aren’t a “critical thinking” patriot. You are on the other side.

    And you are a schoolteacher? The thought horrifies me. Are your students’ parents aware of your views?

  30. Cousin Dave, perhaps you need to reread what I wrote. The fact that Castro has imprisoned so many people who simply disagree with him is not OK with me. My point is that my ideology has not blinded me. And no, I’m not OK with Saddam’s torture machine. Nor am I OK with US guards torturing Iraqi prisoners.

    Fortunately, the parents of my students believe that in America we are all free to hold a wide range of social and political views.

    Freedom and tolerance go hand in hand with what American patriotism is supposed to be all about.

  31. Cousin Dave, if you don’t want leftists like me teaching your children, I hope you do what you can to promote school choice.

  32. I was waiting for RW to trot out the T word. Lefties love “tolerance” as long as you “tolerate” whatever crap they happen to be slinging at the moment. However, I have found that those that preach “tolerance” are the least “tolerant” of other people’s views. Anyway, it allows them a grab at the moral high ground, which most elitists see themselve occupying a priori to any critical analysis of their opponents’ ideas. And if you were teaching at my child’s school, Robert, I would request that my kid be placed in another class. I wouldn’t want him getting the impression that the sum and substance of WWII was Manzanar, not to mention a ton of other warped and skewed lessons the left is continually foisting upon impressionable minds these days. Cheery-oh.