The anniversary of my father’s death has always been a difficult one for me. Most years, I take
off of work and take a vacation to avoid the constant pain of everyone remembering such a terrible day.
I still remember it clearly. It was a Tuesday. I was sitting in my 6th grade social studies class, attempting
to not fall asleep as my teacher read through a PowerPoint on the War of 1812. She had printed the
slides out for us to follow along and I was doodling instead of taking notes.
The principal came over the PA System, requesting all teachers come to the office to pick up the
school newspaper to hand out. I thought it was strange, as usually the school newspaper was given out
on Fridays, but I just turned around and started talking with my best friend. A few minutes later, our
teacher returned, trying to hide the tears streaming down her face. Everyone began talking at once, “Did
you get fired?” “What’s wrong?” She couldn’t even speak as she turned on the TV and turned on CNN. I
glanced at the clock; it was 8:55 am. Class was supposed to end in a few minutes. Why would she turn
on the TV now? I was about to raise my hand and then I saw it.
One of the World Trade Center buildings had been hit by a plane. The word terrorist kept
appearing on screen and I was in shock. Terrorism? In the United States? I raised my hand again,
demanding more information that I wasn’t sure even our teacher had. Then the principal came over the
PA system again. She explained that we would not be switching classes at 9:00 am and we would be
watching the news until further notice. A plane had been hijacked and flown into the World Trade
Center. We sat and watched as the news reported the same thing over and over again. Then the second
plane hit and my world changed forever. My father had left on a business trip and was on United Airlines
I forced myself back to the moment as my daughter laughed excitedly with her classmates. My
Isla was now the same age as I was when I experienced 9/11. Although I would do anything for her,
today was going to be a difficult day. It was a Tuesday again, 39 years later, and I was about to
experience the story of 9/11 as I never had before. I was stuck leading the lesson because of my
experience with the day. My participation on the course board made me the perfect candidate.
The public school system had certainly changed since I was in 6th grade. Back then, we rode the
bus to school, toting a 20 pound backpack, full of books. We sat in class all day and rarely got to
experience field trips. When we did get to go out, it was usually to some boring museum where you
couldn’t touch anything, take any pictures, and you followed your guide as they droned on about the
Ottoman Empire or why the buffalo became endangered. Now, most children went to their
neighborhood school, which was an education concept in which the community supported and
encouraged education. Adults with experience or training in areas were encouraged to volunteer for
course boards or to teach the optional courses, such as sustainable farming, robotics, naturopathy, and
other specialized courses. There was no such thing as a traditional learning environment anymore.
While all children had to learn specific things to pass the test that would allow them to enter the next
grade, education was focused on playing to each person’s strengths. Being able to nurture my Isla’s love
of gardening, while also letting her explore basic engineering was such an amazing option.
On top of the community collectively offering courses for neighborhood school children, the
neighborhood school offered weekly trips to our public museums as an option for certain lessen plans.
With the help of technology, exhibits have been able to lessen their footprint within a museum and
allow for increased hands-on learning. Today, Isla and 4 of her classmates were having history class at
the Park Place Public Museum. One of the other girl’s mother and I were in charge of class today.
As we entered the museum, we saw another group of Isla’s classmates, preparing for Chinese
language class. Several years ago, someone finally decided that a full immersion was the best way for
children to learn a language. Unfortunately, sending my 6th grader off to Beijing for a 3 month
immersion was not my favorite idea. So museums, such as Park Place and the National Museum of
China, have conversation rooms that allow students from one country to speak with another country’s to better understand how a language is spoken. The time difference means that it is usually early morning or night time when the students get to speak with their Chinese teachers. Being in the conversation rooms freaked me out a little. A 360º interactive room makes me a little dizzy, but Isla loves it and is getting high marks in both Chinese and Spanish language courses.
“Mom, class started two minutes ago!” I hear Isla yell for me as she and her classmates head towards the history wing at the museum. As I enter the wing, I see the digital sign showing the moment I was dreading. The 9/11 exhibit: The Day That Changed America. As I finally catch up to the girls, I see them put on their Edu-vision Glasses. The Edu-vision Glass was introduced to schools to hopefully prevent children from accessing inappropriate material from their personal 20/20 Glasses. I personally, feel they should just add a school mode into the 20/20 Glasses that has to be activated during courses. These glasses have come a long way since the invention, and failure, of the Google Glass. I wear mine all day. I can select Focus mode, that does not allow any digital information to intrude on my time, or turn on the full interface, accessing local information, such as the Yellow Page listings that appear while walking around town, or visit my ProfilAR account that is practically everyone’s go to network. ProfilAR integrates several social media accounts, email, phone contacts, notes, and more. It has access to hundreds of App integrations that help you create a completely customized space. It senses both eye movements and gestures so I can scroll through pages of information with a flick of my finger. I tap the side of my 20/20 Glasses to turn on the digital UI and I see the girls all have logged in to their Edu-Vision account and are ready to take notes on this exhibit.
“So, what you are about to experience is a look into the September 11th attacks and the effect it had on both the United States and the World. Does everyone have their History App open in their Glasses?” I see 5 heads nod and continue. “Remember to stay near the group. You can activate the exhibit and begin.”
One by one, the girls look at the main poster for exhibit. I also glance at the poster and begin the experience. The poster acts as an image target and the Park Place Museum App loads. With the option to start the self guided mode or be guided by path, I remind the girls that we need to explore paths one and two before going into self-guided mode. The first path explores the events of the 9/11 from the American perspective. An overlay appears over the miniature replica, showing the path of each plane impact. I have the option to hear stories from survivors of the attack and refuse. I hear Isla gasp loudly. When I find her, she is staring at a piece of the rubble from the Twin Towers. I go over to see what she is experiencing and she is watching a video clip of people jumping from the building and the buildings’ collapse after being invaded by fire for over an hour.
“Mom, was Grandpa in the tower?” I shook my head and responded “He was on the second plane that hit.” Isla looked back at the rubble and struggled to hold back tears. I encouraged her to move to the next station, where I knew she would see the information about the different planes, with family member recounting their final calls with their loved ones on the plane.
Isla quickly moves to the next display. I know she didn’t want to learn more about the where the immediate events after the attack are explained – from President Bush’s choice to continue reading the story to the firefighters’ efforts to save as many people as possible, with many sacrificing their lives. Path 1 experiences tear at my heart, as I try not to break down in front of the girls. As they finish Path 1, Path 2 listings begin. Focusing on how the attacks affected the world, Path 2 explained how this attack wasn’t just on Americans and it began the joint effort of the world’s forces against ISIS. As I notice the girls completing their guided tour, I force myself to regain composure and gather the group to discuss the lesson plan.
“Girls, please turn on the self-guided option. We will be revisiting some of the stations again. Each of you will need to pick a specific topic to present on. You can focus on whatever you choose, but it must include references from the exhibit pieces you have experienced today.”
As we return to the first display, where the attack is recreated, I explain, “I was in class, just like you are, when the planes hit. Our teacher turned on the television to have us watch the news updating the situation. Can you imagine not having instant video chat with someone you think is hurt, simply because the signal is down? For hours, no one could get through to anyone in New York City. We had to sit and wait for the media to share something that would help us understand. Isla’s grandfather, my father, was on the second plane that was flown into the tower.” I could feel my tears welling up in my eyes.
“While we are here to understand history, the most important history lesson is to remember that one single person’s choice can affect the entire world. Whether it is a Caesar conquering cities for Rome, an explorer claiming new lands from the natives, or terrorist hating the idea of freedom so much that they hijacked planes to make Americans feel scared, it starts with one small choice.”
The rest of the lesson time was for the girls to begin gathering content from the exhibit for their presentations. I took off my 20/20 Glass and sat on a nearby bench. The other mother sat down next to me. “Can you believe just two decades ago, all of this information would have been skipped over? Videos would play on a distant screen, while we look at artifacts and pictures. Now the girls can truly understand, feel, and relate to these stories.”
I looked between her and the girls. “I know. They are my hope for the future. Museums have the power to help people care about these stories that happened almost 40 years ago. I just wish we had this growing up. We missed so much because we couldn’t connect with it.”
I turned as Isla came up to me. “Mom? Did you really see the plane hit?” I nodded. “When we get home can you tell me your story too?” I fought tears back as I nodded again. She had never asked me to learn more. Coming to the museum, even on a Tuesday, was worth it. It has changed my daughter.