My pre-collegiate history education was not really much better than theirs, but it was somewhat different. I grew up in Washington, D.C., in the days when Congress ran the city directly, including defining the curriculum for elementary and secondary school students. We were required to take three cracks at American history (in fifth, eighth, and twelfth grade). Repeatedly, we spent so much time on the 13 original colonies that, by the day school let out for the year, we had barely reached World War I. I never did find out what happened after that, not in school anyway. Nowadays, schools have speeded things up a bit and the war they never get to happened in Vietnam.
I’m certainly not the first person to discover that, for new generations, foundational events in her own life — the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, the women’s liberation movement, even the first Gulf War — are, to the young, history almost as ancient as the Civil War. Why should they know about such things? They weren’t even born yet.
But here’s a surprising development — surprising because this last decade and a half seems to have flown past so quickly. I’m now encountering students who have no memory of an event that has shaped their lives, this country, and much of the world for the last 16 years: the 9/11 attacks.
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