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Misremembering 9/11 By: Kenneth Lloyd Billingsley
Accuracy in Academia | Monday, September 18, 2006


SACRAMENTO, CA – The fifth anniversary of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center has now passed, with speeches, movies, and memorials recalling that fateful day when nearly 3,000 perished. One might think that there is nothing left to say, but here in California, the most populous state, some matters need attention.

Education is a state, not a federal, issue. State schools teach history, and 9/11 is part of history. How are California educators handling this demanding task? So far the approach seems to be minimalist, and trying very hard to be politically correct rather than comprehensive.

Gilbert Sewall of the American Textbook Council observes that the textbook coverage of 9/11 is "short and very dry." Publishers, he told reporters, are "in the business of trying to offend the least number of people possible." The approach is misguided, and not succeeding.

Some California school districts use World Geography, published by McDougal Littell, which abounds in heroic photographs of firefighters and explains, "10 Arab terrorists hijacked four airliners." The perpetrators were part of a "global network, or worldwide interconnected group, of extremist Islamic terrorists led by Osama bin Laden, a Saudi Arabian millionaire."

There is a lot more to it, but as far as it goes that is accurate. Even so, the minimalist approach has drawn complaints that descriptions such as "Arab terrorist" are too broad, and that "extremist Islamic terrorists" is unfair to Muslims. It isn't, and Mr. Sewall believes textbook publishers are not calling attention to radical Islam as they should. But it could be worse.

Eric Foner, left-wing historian at Columbia University, wrote the textbook Give Me Liberty! An American History, which uses 9/11 as an excuse to bash America for past abuses of civil liberties. The Nation, where Foner serves as a member of the editorial board, touts Foner's book as "the best textbook on 9/11." It has reportedly been adapted by 300 colleges as an introductory text, and also assigned in some high schools.

A better approach for California schools would be that of September 11: What Our Children Need to Know, a 2002 report by the Fordham Institute that uses 9/11 to teach history, civics, and patriotism. Contributor Lucien Ellington, education professor at the University of Tennessee, told CNN that "Young people need to know that the world is a dangerous place, and there are really powerful forces that wish to destroy the United States and what it stands for."

That is true, and anything that avoids those realities, much less uses 9/11 as an excuse to smear America, is deluding the students of California. Terrorists are not in the demolition business. The object of their wrath is American lives, American freedom, and American enterprise. The instruction, of course, should not avoid a vigorous discussion of American foreign policy, along with American ineptitude in response to the terrorist threat. Should that be doubted, educators should consult The 9/11 Commission Report. So should all policy makers in California, a target-rich environment with its many bridges, dams, tall buildings, and dense population centers.

There has not been a major terrorist attack in California, but not for lack of trying. Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian, targeted Los Angeles International Airport on New Year's eve, 1999, but was stopped at the border by a sharp-eyed customs agent, not high officials in the FBI, CIA, INS, nor by any elected representative. What California officials have done since 9/11 to make the state safer remains unclear.

A state that attempts to do what it should not, such as establish government monopoly health care and universal pre-school, will not be able to carry out its proper tasks with the same efficiency. That should be obvious, but as George Orwell, noted, restatement of the obvious is the first duty of honest men.

California policy makers need to recall that the primary duty of the state is the protection of life, liberty, and property. After 9/11, they need to enhance those protections. As for educators, they should stop worrying about who might be offended and impart the full truth of 9/11 to California students.

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