Honoring Today

Today is September 11th.

My students were born in 2010 or 2011. They didn’t experience that day. They don’t know the world we knew before that day.

My students also live on a military post. They all have at least one family member serving in the military. This day likely has significant meaning to many of those family members.

Mostly our day today will be like all the others this week. My kiddos will have to take a universal screener assessment for math this afternoon. They’ll go to music and P.E. We’ll continue organizing our classroom library. We’ll debate which playground to go to for recess.

But I’ll be thinking about the date. I’ll be remembering my class of fourth graders 18 years ago. The majority of those fourth graders, like the majority of every class of kiddos I taught in the past twenty-one years, was a first- or second-generation immigrant.

For myself, for my current kiddos, and for all those kiddos I’ve taught in the past, today I’m going to read Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers and illustrated by Shawn Harris. The majority of the book gives the history of the Statue of Liberty. It’s witty and quirky, as one would expect from Eggers.

The last part of the book addresses the title. The statue’s right foot is placed in movement, as if she is walking forward. As if she is so eager to greet those coming to our shores that she cannot wait for them, but must walk out to meet them.

I know I will tear up and possibly cry as I read this to my students today. I hope they understand, at least in some way, that I read it to honor what they and their families give to us. And to my former students, I read it to honor all they have done to be here and all they continue to do to make us better.

I read it today to reflect on the past and to move forward.

2 replies on “Honoring Today”

  1. Michaele Sommerville says:

    Looks like a book I need to get! Our students always participate in the Freedom Walk, and much of the content (speeches, the significance of the honored guests, etc.) is lost on my young students, thank goodness. We spend the week learning about national symbols and community helpers instead. Once in a while, when a parent, colleague unfamiliar with teaching younger children or visitor to the school expresses how they feel “everyone” in school should learn about the 9-11 tragedy and that “even kindergarteners” can know about “all those people who lost their lives,” I have to ask them “And when do you feel I should teach them specific information about drunk drivers or serial killers? Or do you consider it appropriate to wait until they’re older and mature enough to emotionally engage with that information and their own responsibilities within the context of the topics?” Too often adults, caught in their own processing and remembrance of a tragic event, want to pull everyone else, even innocent children, into a dialogue, claiming that by doing so they’re being respectful. I doubt any of those who lost their lives hoped in their final moments that young children of the future would be purposely inducted into our nation’s shared grief before they were ready to understand the events of that day. Thank you for achieving the right balance with your students.

    • jenorr says:

      Michaele, this is so beautifully said. The recognition that adults do this because they are caught in their own emotions helps me understand this phenomenon. I often feel challenged by how to not hide things from children or deny reality to them while also respecting their more limited life experiences and maturity levels.

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