recommended reading: remembering 9/11

There has been a deluge of stories on 9/11 and its aftermath in the past week, ranging from the personal to political to polemic, some looking back on the past 10 years, some looking forward to what could come.  I’ve been trying to keep a close eye on who’s been writing what on the issue, and have generated a small list on some of the standouts.  See below for a few recommendations, and feel free to comment with your own – I’d like to keep this list growing with suggestions.

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9/11, commentary, research

The Politics of 9/11 Narratives in History Textbooks

“He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future.”

Orwell 1949: 37

Think back to your high school history textbook.  How many hours did you spend bent over its pages, copying “key terms” onto flashcards the night before an exam?  How often did you complain of the weight it added to your backpack?

How often did you question what was written on its pages?

“The Politics of 9/11 Narratives in History Textbooks Worldwide” is an in-depth analysis of how political forces have shaped the narratives on 9/11 in high school textbooks worldwide.  It provides a never-before seen look into history textbooks from across the globe, illustrating how purportedly objective accounts are refashioned for political ends. While history textbooks are often seen as an authority on their subject, authored by teachers and historians, those who can be counted on to write objectively on events of the past, to distill the “important stuff,” this study reveals that it is press teams more than educators and politicians more than academics who are dictating the narratives currently found in textbooks around the world.

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9/11, research

images of 9/11 in US textbooks

In United States history textbooks, the events of September 11 are most often described as an attack – specifically a terrorist attack.  The timeline of day’s events is described in great detail, with a large emphasis in the response questions placed on memorization of the order and nature of the attacks.  For texts that are generally characterized by fairly straight forward, bland sentences throughout other chapters on other subjects, the 9/11 narrative is dominated by action verbs and passionate retellings.

For the vast amount of space devoted to discussion of the destruction and death caused by 9/11, the reader is provided surprisingly few pictures.  There are rarely pictures of the burning or fallen towers.  This is especially interesting, as such an image (see above) is often the sole or main image that accompanies the discussion of 9/11 in foreign textbooks.

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american teens in israel

An article entitled “American Teens are Fighting Back in Israel” in Details describes how more young, Jewish-American teens are moving into settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories and are not hesitating to use violent means against those – including the Israeli army – who attempt to evict them.  It makes for a bone-chilling, yet absolutely vital read.

When I meet the Goldberg family in January, Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza is reaching its end, and Lenny—who is not legally permitted to carry a weapon after a mid-nineties crackdown on Kahane supporters—is frustrated with the military’s strategy, which involves sending soldiers into Gaza. Like many other hard-line settlers, Lenny is not hesitant to express views that most Israelis would consider abhorrent.

“I want them to bomb all of Gaza, even if they kill all the civilians,” Lenny says. “You have to firebomb all of Gaza and not let one Jew get hurt.”

“We can erase them in no time,” Yehuda says of the Palestinians. “But the government won’t let us do it.”

“How does it feel to meet a Jewish terrorist?” asks Yekutiel Ben Yaakov, the guard-dog trainer, laughing, when we meet at a café in the large settlement of Ariel.

“We’re heading toward a situation where in all likelihood there will be bloodshed between Jews,” he says. “I say this with a heavy heart.”


aiming high, accepting failure

A friend recently sent me a fantastic article from 3quarksdaily entitled “You’ve Failed Again – Well Done!”  The piece articulates, among other interesting insights, why multiple choice tests are not the proper means for evaluating students on a wide-scale basis.  And why this wave of emphasis on standardized testing – such as the recent decision to make passing the MCAS in English and Math mandatory for graduation in Massachusetts – is not the way to improve education attainment.

The multiple choice test, the test of choice for state mandated testing in elementary and middle school and often beyond, is not, by its very nature, a vehicle that can encourage creativity or experimentation. If we increasingly evaluate our children using these tests, and spend a large part of every school day teaching them to take these tests, then what we are teaching them is that to choose the wrong answer is to fail, this failure is something to avoid at all costs and that there are repercussions that can sometimes ripple through an entire life. If this is the focal point of learning, as increasingly it is, then what we are raising is a risk-adverse generation who see no value in failure, try to avoid it at all costs and are in fact terrified of it. And this is not a good thing for the future of US innovation.

While multiple-choice tests may be the quick and dirty way to see if a student is ‘achieving properly,’ it is precisely this definition of achievement that is so troublesome.  I highly recommend Firisen’s entire piece for more!


education: teachers’ pay

So what kind of teachers could a school get if it paid them $125,000 a year?

…an eight-teacher dream team, lured to an innovative charter school that will open in Washington Heights in September with salaries that would make most teachers drop their chalk and swoon; $125,000 is nearly twice as much as the average New York City public school teacher earns, and about two and a half times as much as the national average for teacher salaries. They also will be eligible for bonuses, based on schoolwide performance, of up to $25,000 in the second year.

The school, called the Equity Project, is premised on the theory that excellent teachers — and not revolutionary technology, talented principals or small class size — are the critical ingredient for success. Experts hope it could offer a window into some of the most pressing and elusive questions in education: Is a collection of superb teachers enough to make a great school? Are six-figure salaries the way to get them? And just what makes a teacher great?

An interesting project to keep an eye on.  See the full story from the New York Times here.


technology goes home

I’m in the middle of working on a piece for Technology Goes Home, a fantastic program that runs through the Boston Public Schools, providing 24-hour workshops on computer literacy and internet safety for students and their families.  Over the course of many weeks, it teaches various skills, from building a PowerPoint presentation to activating I-Safe filters, and at the end of the program participants can purchase a computer, fully-loaded with Microsoft Office, for a mere $90.

I knew this would be a challenge when I took this assignment on – I’ve never written a feature of this length or depth before.  But what I’m learning through the process is both surprising and exciting: how to conduct a better interview, the make-up of Boston’s city-wide school system, how far parent engagement in a school can really go – the list goes on.

Unfortunately, the story’s hitting a few road bumps in the form of the swine flu – many schools in the Boston area are closed for a week, which casts an ominous shadow over the graduation celebrations, which are scheduled for May 30th.  But I’m plugging along anyway, and a hoping to get a draft done sometime soon (before then, at least).  Just finished transcribing, now finally onto the fun part!  Perhaps I’ll post bits and pieces here as they come about.