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9/11 Education Discussed at Jericho HS Town Hall Meeting

This year marks the ten-year anniversary of September 11, 2001. With the commemoration will no doubt come an outpouring of remembrance and reverence. A Town Hall meeting on June 1 at Jericho High School featured a discussion on 9/11, with a specific emphasis on how the tragedy should be taught in schools.

Moderated by Jericho Superintendent Henry Grishman, the panel featured five activists who lost family members in the attacks; among them was Jay S. Winuk.

Winuk, a Jericho High School alum (’76), lost his brother on September 11 and is the co-founder of MyGoodDeed. As part of its ongoing mission to preserve the memory of those lost, MyGoodDeed is in the process of creating lesson plans for teachers, aiding them in teaching an important piece of American history that is still relatively fresh.

“Our goals are simple,” Winuk said of the initiative. “First, to help make sure that the victims and lessons of 9/11 are not forgotten. Second, to help students, teachers, and families, now and in the future, learn about the tragedy [and] how nationwide community service and good deeds played an essential role in the aftermath of the attacks.”

Winuk has been instrumental in the national community service effort. MyGoodDeed worked for September 11 to become a National Day of Service and Remembrance. This goal was realized in April of 2009 when President Barack Obama signed the designation into law.

“We did not want it to be a holiday,” Winuck said. “This is more of a day on than a day off.”

Although the original goal of MyGoodDeed has been recognized, a new set of challenges has arisen. The youth of America is identifying less with the tragedy. Many students that are now in high school were too young at the time to attach their own personal significance to the event. That is, according to Winuk and others on the panel, where the role of school curriculum enters the equation.

“Right from the beginning, it was a concern to us that future generations not just learn about the attacks,” Winuk said. “If this historic moment in America is only known for what the ‘bad guys did,’ then we have really lost something here.”

With an event so deeply layered as 9/11, the ultimate decision of what specifically should be covered in the curriculum will be a large undertaking.

“We need to tell the truth,” Liz Alderman said. “I think we need to say what happened, why it happened, and we cannot gloss over things that are negative. The explanation of why this happened is [usually] that the people who did this to us did not like our way of life. That’s not a true answer. You really have to go beyond.”

Alderman lost her 25-year-old son in the attacks. To honor him, she and her husband established the Peter C. Alderman Foundation. The non-profit is dedicated to “rebuilding post-conflict societies by returning victims of torture, terrorism, and mass violence to productive lives.”

Lee Ielpi, a retired member of the FDNY who lost his son in the attacks, agreed with Alderman’s plea for honesty.

“We cannot be afraid to talk about what happened on 9/11,” he said. “It’s like saying [that] during the Second World War there was a country that killed six million people, and not say it was Germany…Who did this? They’re saying it was radical Islamic fundamentalists. We cannot be afraid to say it. We have to be upfront and understand that there are so many more beautiful Islamic people out there than this small fraction.”

On the subject of teaching about the ideals behind the attacks, Ielpi added:

“Where did this start? It’s not just a total lack of education on their part. Some of these people that were in those planes were pretty well educated. So, what is the issue? What is the problem? How far back do we have to go?”

Marie Clyne’s story was different from the others on the panel. Clyne was just 11 when her mother perished in the attacks. Along with her father, the college student started the Susan M. Clyne Fund. The foundation helps purchase state-of-the-art computer equipment for local schools and grants a scholarship each year to one student planning to attend Touro Law School, her mother’s alma mater.

Clyne currently studies psychology at The University of Hartford, a path she chose after attending counseling after her mother’s death. She experienced the very beginning of 9/11 education in schools.

“In high school, I had a question on my Global Regents about 9/11 and yet we hadn’t learned anything about it,” Clyne said. “I didn’t know why we never learned anything about it and they expected us to answer a question about it.”

That lack of scholastic information continued into her college years. “I took a class completely devoted to Martin Luther King and yet there were no classes completely devoted to 9/11,” Clyne said. “I think you need to start in college and create classes that are devoted to 9/11.”

But, at least in the Jericho High School Library, current students appeared eager to learn about the event. A group of students who voluntarily signed up for the after-school program listened intently as the panelists told their stories.

“I think it’s important that we try to provide as balanced a view as we possibly can,” Jericho High School Principal Joe Prisinzano said. “I think it would be easy to teach from a point of anger, to teach from a point of terror. Our job as educators is to best present all sides that led up to this and all ways we can prevent it in the future.”  

Prisinzano concluded the discussion by calling on his students to speak about what they can do to honor the memory of 9/11. A select group stood up and offered ideas for good deeds. They ranged from joining a Habitat for Humanity mission to picking up trash in local neighborhoods.

The program was recorded and will be used as part of an educational DVD that Winuk hopes will be shown in classrooms across the country, intended to inspire America’s youth on a much broader scale.

“The notion of being inspired by people’s response to such a tragedy is the other side of 9/11 that should be taught in schools and the difference that it can make in peoples lives,” Winuk said. “That’s something that needs to carry on from generation to generation or this will just wind up being a study on the act of war and that’s only half the story.”

More information on MyGoodDeed can be found on 911day.org.