Teaching those born after 9/11

You’re showing your age if you sometimes make the observation that everyone can remember where they were and what they were doing on Sept. 11, 2001.

At 15, Luca Martinez didn’t live through the horror of 9/11. But the Shelter Island junior knows about the terrorist attacks that claimed more than 3,000 lives at the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and on United Flight 93, when passengers who kept the plane from attacking the Capitol died when it plunged into a field in Shanksville, Pa.

Three of Luca’s teachers have brought home the story of that day, the way in which the world rallied behind the United States in its aftermath, and the impact it has had on American foreign policy.

Social studies teachers Peter Miedema and Sean Brennan and math teacher James “Jimbo” Theinert, brother of 1st Lieutenant Joseph Theinert, who was killed in Afghanistan on June 4, 2010, protecting his troops, have ensured that even those born after 9/11 can put that day into perspective.

“It was a little hard to grasp the importance” of 9/11 prior to what he had learned in school, Luca said. “It felt surreal.” 

It was upsetting that innocent people could perish so suddenly, he said, and an awakening of how fragile life can be. He was in middle school when he first recalls hearing at some length about 9/11. It was not a subject he can remember being discussed at home.

Listening to Jimbo Theinert talk about loss of his brother, Luca came to understand why Joey Theinert was inspired to join the Armed Services, he said.

Year after year since Joey Theinert’s death, his brother has continued to share his memories of Joey to help others understand why a young Islander, who always thought about others, would volunteer to go to war and sacrifice his own life.

Mr. Miedema remembers 9/11 as his first day as a student teacher in Ellenville, N.Y. He taught one class prior to the early morning news of the attacks. Not only was he determined to never forget that day, but was inspired to ensure his students would keep the memory alive. Then came the years where he began to have students either too young to remember or those, like Luca, who hadn’t been born prior to that day.

“When you talk about history, it’s all tied into that day,” Mr. Miedema said of the 20 years that have passed. Early on, he became the teacher who would take his students to the memorial service at the Shelter Island Center Firehouse.

He wanted to make sure the speeches on that day would resonate with students he believed needed to understand how subsequent events grew from the actions of that fateful day. In today’s country, where long-time friends and family members once rallied together, it seems some have forgotten the spirit of that day and the way everyone was united, Mr. Miedema noted.

“We have to remind ourselves that we can have a conversation,” he added. “We still are here and we can overcome” the bitterness that infects a very divided country today. “People are acting out of fear. Bitterness is at an all time high and the country has lost the identity of struggling together. It’s so important to keep creating informed citizens.”