- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Teachers nationwide say they will develop lesson plans about September 11 based on students' questions and will focus on the facts to correct any misconceptions children may have about the terrorist attacks.

Several teachers said they will tell the "truth" about the terrorists and their religious background, and will avoid the National Education Association curriculum that cites American intolerance as a reason for the attacks and cautions against assigning blame.

"I'm going to work with what my students give me," said Whitney Finn, a seventh-grade social studies teacher from Westport, Conn.

"I want to prepare them for the truth, and the only way to do that is to keep talking to them and making sure that they have the correct information about what happened that day."

James McGrath Morris, a 12th-grade social studies teacher from Springfield, said his lesson plan will try to explain why America was attacked by tracing the rivalry among the three Western religions with the most adherents Islam, Judaism and Christianity and noting that the terrorists were Muslim.

"These are all aspects of the facts," Mr. Morris said. "My lesson plans will not skirt the issues."

Educators and clinical psychologists said the worst thing teachers can do is "sugarcoat" the events of September 11.

"Honesty is important," said Robin Gurwitch, a clinical psychologist at the pediatrics department at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

The NEA, the country's largest teachers union, has drawn criticism from conservatives and other teachers unions who say its guidelines instruct teachers not to "suggest that any group is responsible" for the attacks and to take a blame-America approach.

They urge educators "to discuss historical instances of American intolerance" so that the American public avoids "repeating terrible mistakes."

"The American Federation of Teachers disagrees with the lesson plans found on the NEA Web site," said Janet Bass, a spokeswoman for the union. "The AFT does not support a blame-America approach in particular and wishes to distance itself from the entire document."

Compiled under the title "Remember September 11" and appearing on the NEA health-network Web site, the guidelines were developed by Brian Lippincott, who is affiliated with the Graduate School of Professional Psychology at John F. Kennedy University in California.

NEA officials did not immediately return calls seeking comment. However, they issued a press release yesterday praising the Web site that includes Mr. Lippincott's tips, which were taken from proposals solicited from teachers.

"This is a terribly difficult time for all Americans," NEA President Bob Chase said in the statement.

"The NEA joins with our fellow citizens to honor our heroes and our country on this day. We hope this Web site offers help in navigating the challenges teachers face in the classroom with addressing this sensitive topic. Our goal is to provide age-appropriate information for them to use as needed."

Although a variety of lesson plans has been developed over the past several months to help teachers cover September 11, many school districts are still trying to figure out how teachers should best commemorate September 11 and how to incorporate the attacks into a daily lesson plan.

School officials in Fairfax County will hold a training seminar, "Teaching in a Time of Terror: How Do We Respond?" on Aug. 29 for 700 middle and high school teachers. Officials in Prince William County are expected to meet today.

In Maryland, school officials in Montgomery County are discussing the matter with their social studies teachers.

Teachers should decide on their own how to describe the attacks, depending on the age of the students, but they need to set the facts straight, officials said.

"There's always a part of us that says if we bring it up, we're going to need to downplay it or sugarcoat it," Miss Gurwitch said. "By doing that we may create more problems if we don't address it. The truth is always good."

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