Echoes of Terrorism in Today’s U.S. Classrooms

A Re-Reading of Media Used to Teach about 9/11


  • Jeremy Stoddard University of Wisconsin-Madison



September 11 2001, terrorism, media studies, history, collective memory


Nearly 20 years after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York, Washington D.C., and Shanksville, PA there is a yearly ritual in a majority of US Schools. On the anniversary each year, teachers and students across the US learn about the attacks and memorialize the events. In many classrooms this is done through witnessing the events much like in 2001 for most of the world – through watching news or documentary footage of the events. In this article I use Hall’s concepts of encoding and decoding as well and socio-cultural theories to read these media representations both in the context of 2001 and again 20 years later to understand how these events are placed into broader narratives of US history. Many teachers today focus on the shock and horror of the events, an approach I argue is problematic as the affective response is emphasized over the historical context and consequences.  Instead of using these media to foster collective memory, they could instead be viewed as primary sources to inquire into the historical context of the events and response in the form of the Global War on Terror. This approach would allow students to better understand the events leading to the attacks and the impact that the resulting responses by the US and other Western nations have had on their lives and the lives of others around the globe (e.g., Islamaphobia). After 20 years of conflict after these attacks it is time to both remember the victims of 9/11 as well as understand why it happened and the global toll of the response.