Twin Towers of Mind, of Heart

by Ferdi Serim

I write this editorial at the midpoint: as much time has passed since Sept. 11 as will pass until you read these words in print. From the first moment the first word of the tragedy reached us, we in schools have been dealing with a changed world. We are on the frontlines of caring, helping the young to make sense of the world we've created. A world our technology brings into our classrooms, into our homes, into our lives with more immediacy than ever before. A world where threats from without are balanced by threats from within, where email informs us of terror, and snailmail delivers it.

Even in this time of terror, the seeds of sanity respond to, and require our care. At no time has our work ever been more important.

As we grapple with the implications of Sept. 11, the altered skyline of lower Manhattan provides an indelible milestone for "before and after." In their place rise the twin challenges of making sense of events through reliable sources, and using our understanding to extend the reach of freedom and security around the world.

As educators, our responses to children's questions of "why?" remove the sterile barrier between "content areas" of history, economics, comparative religion, media literacy, physics, engineering and "real life." Suddenly the pain of a world that long since stopped seeing itself as "safe" was brought to our doorstep. Suddenly the phrase "if you seek peace, seek justice" has much deeper meaning. Suddenly our role in providing young people with both the facts and foundational intellectual tools to interpret these facts has taken on long term significance. The problems that led to Sept. 11 can be traced to the Crusades. All of us have been advised, both with mind and heart, to understand that moving beyond this crisis point will be a long haul. The generation we now prepare to take the world stage will have to rely on the foundations we help them grow, right now, before our eyes, in our classrooms, in our homes.

Expanding Towers of Mind

In "America's Expanding News Borders" Eriq Gardner, the New York editor at Upside Magazine, notes "Barely a month ago, everything outside our own border hardly seemed to matter. Call it the privilege of being an American. Or the demonstration of being arrogant."

He defines "expanding news borders" as follows: "News borders refer to the consumer, rather than producer, side of gathering information, and the increasing ease of finding disparate sources of news outside traditional or local boundaries. Think, for example, about living in New York and taking a friend's e-mailed recommendation about a story online at UK's The Guardian website. Now, think about doing this 10 years ago...In recent years, satellites and the Internet have been the two primary technology vehicles for expanding news borders. In the future, broadband and better translation services might push news borders even further."

Anne Taylor, of Canada's noteworthy Media Awareness Network, adds her voice. "I agree that the Internet combined with September 11th is pushing news borders and making active news consumers out of many of us. The problem is that it's only a certain group that goes searching, even at times as complex and distressing as we're experiencing now. It's a giant step in the right direction to simply get the idea into kids' heads that what they're seeing on TV is not THE news, but a version of the news which is founded upon (and funded by) specific ideological, political and national interests. Kids today are in a great position, with their well-honed Internet skills, to seek out diverse perspectives online. What they need is guidance in developing the critical thinking skills to handle the mass of information, online and off."

Anne continues, "There's no "up-side" to what's happening in the world right now, but we do have to admit that September 11th and its aftermath is a "teachable moment" par excellence. I hope your readers will check out the October issue of Barry's Bulletin, an online monthly teaching aid written by Canadian media educator, Barry Duncan. It's chock full of approaches to probing the media coverage of the last month, September 11th-related topics for discussion, sources of alternative information, and theory on developing critical thinking. We've been overwhelmed by the positive response to this issue of the Bulletin from media education leaders all over the U.S. It's on the Media Awareness Network site at http://www.media-awareness.ca/eng/med/class/multilib/oct2001.htm. Other resources for talking about the terrorist attack with kids and lessons for encouraging critical thinking can be accessed through the For Educators part of our site at http://www.media-awareness.ca/eng/med/class/"

Expanding Towers of Heart

There are resources to help us rebuild, as well.

The re:constructions project <http://web.mit.edu/cms/reconstructions/> is an on-line resource and study guide, designed to spark discussions and reflections about the media's role in covering the events of 11 September 2001 and their aftermath. As millions of people around the world sit glued to their television sets, even as we write, we feel it is important to encourage critical analysis of the words, images, and stories which fill the media - as well as the ones we are not hearing or seeing. We hope this site will be used to help inform discussions in schools, places of worship, union halls, civic gatherings, and homes as people struggle to make sense of what is happening and to sort through their competing emotions about these events. We are not offering answers here so much as encouraging people to ask hard questions before they rush to judgement and action. We do not present these essays as the work of experts - although in some cases we have included pieces from important commentators, past and present. Most of us are still learning how to think critically and theoretically about the media ourselves. All of us are too torn apart by these events to have any certainty about the adequacy of our words and our knowledge to respond to such a situation. But, we want to share what we know and what we think and what we feel. We want to see if these ideas might be useful in helping someone else begin a similar process of exploration and examination.

The Friendship Through Education <http://www.FriendshipThroughEducation.org/> is a consortium of non-governmental organizations and private groups facilitating expanded links between US students and students in countries with Muslim populations in an effort to bridge cultures and broaden understanding. One of the best ways to deter terrorism is through education and understanding. This interaction will build friendships and involve students in discussions of issues facing them as future global citizens.

Friendship Through Education has launched this effort with a commitment to expand links between US schools and those in Islamic countries, including Egypt, Indonesia, Qatar, Pakistan, Turkey, Bahrain and Afghan refugee camps. The consortium includes: iEARN-USA, Global SchoolNet Foundation, People to People International, The UN's Cyberschoolbus, ePals Classroom Exchange, Schools Online, Sister Cities International, US Fund for UNICEF, and Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools Program of the Peace Corps.

National Geographic has provided "Culture Goggles" <http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/hall/?node=27> which demonstrate how culture affects our perceptions, by illustrating how the city of Jerusalem appears through the eyes of people from three faiths: Jewish, Christian and Muslim.

The ancient city of Jerusalem is the geographic and spiritual heart of the state of Israel. At Jerusalem's center is the Old City, a walled enclave that is a cradle of faith to three of the world's great religions. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam share a long history with roots in earliest Jerusalem and the 4,000-year-old story of the patriarch Abraham. In time, each faith has developed a distinct idea of the sites that matter most in the city they all hold sacred. Peer through the Culture Goggles to see six such hallowed spots.

Finally, friends and colleagues are creating resources that build community and gather knowledge, so that we may emerge from these times with new possibilities, based upon better understanding. Andy Carvin has created the Sept11info listserv <sept11info@yahoogroups.com> where global points of view are shared, discussed, explored. Kristen Hammond as created an area on her site that brings together a host of resources for parents and educators as we move from recovery to rebuilding. <http://www.edupuppy.com/sept11.html>