11 years ago I was in the sixth grade. My homeroom teacher was the school Spanish teacher, but I chose to take French so I only saw her in homeroom, which in the sixth grade was at the beginning of the day, before and after lunch, and at the end of the day. The private school I attended housed toddlers all the way up to eighth graders, and the administration had specifically instructed the teachers not to tell any of the students about what had happened. Some of us were very young, and perhaps they thought it best if our parents explained it to us. Besides, we were kids stuck at school. How else were we going to find out? It’s not as though we had internet phones, Twitter, or some other secret underground child news network.
Well, my homeroom teacher knew all of us 11 and 12 year olds well, and she felt we had a right to know what was going on (especially given that many students’ parents were coming and picking up their children from school–we were already confused and suspicious). We were seated in homeroom, hungry bellies ready for lunch, and she told us to push all of the desks against the wall and sit in the front of the room. When we sat in perfect formation, facing the front of the room like we would formally face a teacher, she shook her head and told us to gather in closer to each other–that’s when the room got eerily quiet. We all knew something was wrong. I remember her words exactly…mostly because of how much they confused me. “This morning, two jumbo jet planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City.”
I had never been to New York City. I didn’t know what the World Trade Center was or how many people it housed. I had flown a commercial airline once in my life from Atlanta to Miami, and I didn’t know that they were called ‘Jumbo Jets.’ So, after hearing this sentence, I looked at my classmates and saw by the looks on their faces that they clearly understood more about the world than I did. I imagined the World Trade Center to be this big, open, flea-market esque place where people actually traded goods, and two big planes just falling onto them in some kind of horrible accident.
We hadn’t said much yet, so my teacher asked us if we had any questions. Once we all understood that it wasn’t an accident, we began to better understand the gravity of the situation. All kinds of things were racing through our minds. …World War 3!?….Bombs?!….Would these terrible people consider attacking an elementary school in Atlanta?!….Who knows?!….My teacher assured us that we’d be fine, but that we may see our friends’ parents coming to take them from school for the day, and all of the after school sports would most likely be cancelled. [I remember hearing them announce all of the sports cancellations over the PA later that afternoon, blaming “inclement weather”…]
So off we went to lunch. Dead silent. We were standing in the cafeteria line, looking at all of the happy-go-lucky kids who didn’t know yet. My friend turned to me and said, “Look at them. So innocent. They don’t know that we’re under attack.” Her words snapped everything into perspective for me for the first time. We were under attack. My country was under attack.
Some people may question the ethical validity of my homeroom teacher’s actions–but when I got home later that night I knew she did the right thing. Because after I left school I was surrounded by people who were acting like nothing was happening. I was part of a tennis league separate from the school and I still had to play a match that afternoon. I was shocked at the denial around me because I knew it was serious.
So how would this incident have been different if it occured in 2012 instead? You can’t hide a huge newsbreak from a kid with an internet phone. Twitter or Google News would most likely be the first place people would’ve heard about the tragedy. Major news sites might have stronger capabilities to beef up their servers [I went online that night in 2001 to try to read more about what happened, but every major news site was basically not working there was so much traffic].
We all know that’s true. But think about how a child (and yes I mean even 11 or 12) might view news like this if they read it first on Twitter. Sure, they’d know it’s serious, but it will always be something that they ‘read on Twitter.’ It strips away the heaviness of the situation right down to the bare bones…the facts only. By the time most news coverage in 2001 had scrambled together, most of it had a reaction coating the facts. It was a news story, not a news statement. I guess my point is, this real-time news on Twitter, fast-paced world we live in now might not have given this situation the gravity it deserved. Hearing my homeroom teacher practically whisper it to us in a small community circle may have just been exactly how we were supposed to hear this news.