Teaching Sept. 11 To A New Generation

Explaining Sept. 11 to young students can be a formidable challenge for teachers. Unis Middle School in Dearborn, Mich. has taken a unique approach through The Living Textbook Project. The program lets students play the role of journalists and report the attacks through different perspectives. Host Michel Martin speaks with April Kincaid, a teacher at Unis who works on the program, and Nour Eidy, one of Kincaid's students.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. For most adults in this country, I think it's probably fair to say that the memory of September 11th, 2001, is seared into our memories, but there are millions of people who were too young to remember it. They will be the first generation to come of age without a memory of a pre-9/11 world, and at some point they will have to learn about what happened that day and how it changed the country.

The teachers and administrators at Unis Middle School in Dearborn, Michigan have thought a lot about this. The school is taking part in what is known as the Living Textbook Project. That program, put together with the help of the Asian American Journalists Association, allows students to play the role of journalist and to report about the terrorist attacks and other events through many different perspectives.

It also gives them an opportunity to have their own voices heard. That's something that means a lot, especially to the many Arab American students who make up a majority of the children attending that school.

Here's seventh grader, Jamila Nassal.

JAMILA NASSAL: I'll be like watching the news and there's like all these people and these microphones, these recorders. I look around. It's like, none of them are Arabs. It's like all of these Americans, African-Americans. Where are the Arabs?

MARTIN: Joining us to talk about teaching about September 11th is April Kincaid. She teaches the Living Textbook Project at Unis Middle School. Also with us is one of her students, 13-year-old Nour Eidy (ph).

Welcome to you both. Thank you so much for joining us.

APRIL KINCAID: Thank you for having us.

NOUR EIDY: Thank you for having us.

MARTIN: Ms. Kincaid, could you just tell us a little bit about why the teachers and administrators at the Unis Middle School wanted to adopt the Living Textbook Project? Why did you think it was necessary to teach about 9/11?

KINCAID: Well, the Living Textbook Project was just a chance for young adults in the Arab-American community to get a chance to voice their opinions and talk about relevant issues to themselves, their community and to the country and just to hear the news from a different perspective.

MARTIN: How does it work, exactly?

KINCAID: Students come to a journalism class. We have a lot of outside help from professional journalists, photographers, videographers, media specialists who come in and they train the students in all aspects of the changing world of media.

MARTIN: Nour, tell us about it. When you were first asked to, or selected to participate in the project, did you want to? Were you excited about it or were you reluctant?

EIDY: I was actually kind of shocked when they told us that everyone's going to be able to see it. Everyone in the world will be able to see it and I was really excited to start the program.

MARTIN: How come? Tell me more about that.

EIDY: Because no one can tell a story better than you can, so knowing that I had a say in what I wanted to write and knowing that people will read it, people will be interested in it, this was just another fun thing, another big adventure for my middle school years.

MARTIN: Nour, do you remember how you first heard about 9/11? Was it something that was talked about at home? Something you saw about, you know, in the news?

EIDY: When I first heard about 9/11, it was at school when Ms. Ross(ph) would come on the microphone and would say, let's take a moment of silence to remember those who we lost during 9/11. And, of course, our teachers would take time out of the class to talk about it, so that's when I first heard about it.

MARTIN: And do you remember, like, what you thought about it when you heard about it?

EIDY: I don't think I really actually cared. I was more like - I was a little kid, so I was more like, oh, okay. You know, people died. Sorry for them, but I think that last year was the first year that we learned more about it, got more into it, had feelings about, had something to say about it.

MARTIN: And Ms. Kincaid, what about that? Do you mind if I ask you, where were you when you found out about 9/11? Where were you and what were you doing?

KINCAID: I was teaching in Dearborn. I was at Oakman Elementary School, 5th grade. I was in class and my phone was buzzing and I don't usually get calls from, like, my grandparents or anything. And I got a phone call from my grandmother and she was concerned. She said, there's something going on in New York and they believe it's terrorists and she wanted to know were we okay, you know.

MARTIN: That must be a little unnerving to get a call in the middle of a school day.

KINCAID: And right away, I flipped on the news, you know, in the classroom. We had televisions and I flipped on the news and it was all over air and we kind of watched it unfold that day.

MARTIN: You know, did it occur to you that - I know that Dearborn is a place where there are many people of Arab descent, many Arab-Americans from different countries. Do you think at the time, given all the dialogue about who started this, especially - it didn't become clear immediately, but it did become clear pretty soon about who was believed to have been behind it.

Were students talking about it even then, at the time?

KINCAID: Oh yeah. Right away, you know, it was a situation where feelings were all over the place. Yeah, I'm sad that it's someone from the Arab-American descent did it, but how do they know and, you know, what if they're saying it's the wrong person, And so we saw a lot of feelings and emotions, you know, travel with that issue.

MARTIN: ..TEXT: KINCAID: ..TEXT: MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're talking about The Living Textbook Project. It is to teach schoolchildren about 9/11. Joining us is Living Textbook teacher April Kincaid and one of her students, Nour Eidy. They are both at Unis Middle School, which is in Dearborn, Michigan.

I want to talk more about that, though, the work that you've done with the project, though. And I know some people might cringe when they heard you say earlier that at the time when you first heard about it you thought this has nothing to do with me, we're just kids. That's too bad. But you've kind of grown to think more about it. Can you talk a little bit more about the work that you've done with the project and how it's changed your - or affected your thinking about it.

EIDY: When I got my interview with Osama Siblani, he is the editor of the Arab American News, and he had a lot to say about it and I think that opened my eyes even more. He didn't blame it on us. He didn't blame it on our religion. He came out and said that we are not associated with bin Laden. Bin Laden is his own man, his own word(ph) . What he had to do is something completely wrong with him, but we're not associated with him. We shouldn't define ourselves to him. We shouldn't take discrimination as an offensive term to us because we are civil people and people have always thought we were bloodthirsty before and after 9/11. So...

MARTIN: You know, I can see why that was comforting for you to hear that. But journalism is not just about talking to people you already agree with or who agree with you. It's also about sometimes talking to people who don't agree with you or who you don't agree with. Have you had the opportunity to do that as well as part of this project, to hear from people whose opinions perhaps are not as comfortable for you to hear?

EIDY: Terry Jones is probably the main factor of that. He had a lot to say and I disagreed with everything he said.

MARTIN: Who is that? Ms. Kinkaid, maybe you want to tell me who that is.

KINCAID: Terry Jones, the gentleman who came to visit Dearborn several times last year well, earlier this year, actually - he was trying to burn the Quran. If you remember.

MARTIN: Sure. Okay.

KINCAID: He was on the news a lot and...

MARTIN: The Florida minister?

KINCAID: Yeah.

MARTIN: And did the kids to get to hear him?

KINCAID: Well, yeah. Some of my students actually went to the rally to, you know, write about it and also just to - with their parents to find out more about it. And, you know, of course the protests. And so he, you know, he was in Dearborn several times earlier this year and several times I had different students who were at some of the rallies.

MARTIN: So talk to me - if you would talk a little bit about that, Ms. Kinkaid, what some of the things are that the students do in the course of this. And do they experience different perspectives and points of view about 9/11, in addition to the ones that many of them hold themselves? And also, I think it is worth mentioning that there are different points of view, you know, among Arab-Americans and among Muslim-Americans about the way forward.

KINCAID: Definitely.

MARTIN: So do they get to hear those?

KINCAID: Yeah. With the class itself, we had a lot of opposition with the Terry Jones issue and, you know, students were saying that they didn't believe that he should be allowed to talk and come to Dearborn. And so we really got into a freedom of speech issue. And so when we talked about the freedom of speech, we also had speakers come in. We had lawyers come in and people who - we also had an Arab - the lawyer who had to defend Terry Jones' right to speak in Dearborn was an Arab-American and a Muslim and she was assigned the case of defending him with him coming to Dearborn. And so I think that was a big a-ha moment for my class, because here you have somebody who is totally what he's against who had to defend him in the court of law because it was - it followed the First Amendment.

MARTIN: Hmm. Nour, what affect do you think that participating in this project has had on your thinking?

EIDY: It definitely opened my eyes to a lot of new things. What we learned in our fieldtrips taught us so many new things, so many new creative ways to write, take pictures, and to go out and to meet somebody like Osama Siblani and know a lot more about 9/11 and have a more open accurate thinking of it, just knows that now if someone asks me what you think of 9/11, I don't I don't say that, oh, it doesn't have to do with me. Sorry for the people who died. Now I can say that I wasn't associated with Osama bin Laden. I am my own I have my own religion. I follow my religion and I shouldn't be judged for a few people's mistakes.

MARTIN: And finally, Ms. Kincaid, I'm putting you a little bit on the spot here. Is there something that you think perhaps the rest of the country could learn from this and what you're finding, what the students are learning? They are in middle school. They're at a really kind of an interesting point in their lives. You know, they're not babies anymore.

KINCAID: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: They're not little kids anymore but they're still too young to, you know, both actively participate as citizens, but they're just on the cusp of that. Is there something you think that maybe the rest of us could learn from what they're learning?

KINCAID: I really think that, you know, overall I think that the rest of the world could learn about similarities. And realize that, you know, I see people are people and, you know, the Arab-American middle schooler is interested in writing about and thinking about the same thing anyone else is thinking or writing about as their age group or their peers. And so I just think that the whole project brings sameness. It also, you know, let's people know a little bit about the Arab-American community that might not know anything about it but things they see on TV which are often not represented very well, as Janela(ph) mentioned.

MARTIN: That was April Kincaid. She is a teacher at Unis Middle School in Dearborn, Michigan. She's also participating in The Living Textbook Project at Unis. We also heard from Nour Eidy. She's a student of hers, of Ms. Kincaid's, in the project, and they both joined us from Southfield, Michigan. I thank you both so much for joining us. And my best wishes for a successful and interesting school year to you both.

KINCAID: Thank you.

EIDY: Thank you.

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