By Stefanie Jackson – The Virginia Department of Education Office of Equity and Com- munity Engagement hosted an Aug. 18 webinar on how educators can be culturally responsive and inclusive when commemorating the anniversary of 9/11.
Muslim students surveyed said “the most challenging day to attend school” every year is Sept. 11, said Amaarah DeCuir, a lecturer at the American University School of Education, Washington, D.C.
Her research revealed that many Muslim students already are bullied at school, and 9/11 appears to increase the amount of stress they feel at school.
Two out of every five Muslim families report that their children are bullied in school, according to the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.
One out of every four instances of bullying Muslim students includes a classroom teacher, DeCuir added.
She discussed some real-life instances of bullying that Muslim students have experienced in school, such as other students joking and calling them “terrorists” or saying “don’t blow us up.”
Another Muslim student said 9/11 creates “tension” at school and teachers act as if he can’t understand a personal question about 9/11 “because you’re Muslim.”
Many Muslim students also say they feel uncomfortable during lessons on 9/11, as if everyone in the room is “hyper-focused” on them, she said.
But the solution is not to stop teaching about 9/11, as it is part of Virginia’s Standards of Learning, nor is it excusing Muslim students from school on 9/11.
“We should be striving to make every one of our school days a day where all of our students feel welcome, a sense of belonging, and an opportunity to learn,” DeCuir said.
She proposed three actions to decrease anti-Muslim racism in schools:
• Increase teacher awareness of potential harm that could be directed at Muslim students and intensified on 9/11.
• Disrupt anti-Muslim racism in schools by implementing existing anti-bullying policies.
• Require an inclusive instructional plan for any commemoration of 9/11.
Her teaching tips include describing 9/11 as a “foreign attack in American soil” by extremists.
DeCuir explained her rationale for using the term “extremists,” not “terrorists.”
“The word ‘terrorist’ in our American, recent, contemporary experiences have often been directly paralleled with casualties and trauma that have been inflicted by people who proclaim to be Muslim or practicers of the Islamic faith,” she said.
But when there are “mass casualties, mass violence, mass productions of fear” by those who do not identify as Muslim, those events often are not called terrorism, DeCuir said.
Heroism also should be a focus in any classroom discussion of 9/11, including acts by first responders, civilians, and community leaders, both men and women of all races, DeCuir said.
“When we teach 9/11, you don’t have to stop with the story of loss,” DeCuir said. “You can teach about heroism – the American heroism that shone through on that day.”
According to multiple news sources, VDOE has pulled DeCuir’s teaching video after strong negative reaction to a variety of assertions she made in the video. Examples of com- plaints against DeCuir’s teaching:
• Insisting that the 9/11 perpetrators not be called terrorists seems counter to fact when they clearly were practicing terrorism in the deadliest of senses.
• The video asks teachers not to teach American exceptionalism during 9/11 teaching, which some people claim is anti-American.
• DeCuir advised teachers to avoid the “false assumption” of Muslim responsibility for the attack. “We’re just going to begin right there and name that there is no responsibility and therefore we’re not going to use this space to try and untangle that,” DeCuir asserts in the video.
• The video also says teachers should not name the 9/11 attackers. “You name what hap- pened and that’s it,” DeCuir says, further claiming “there’s no need to provide details.” But teachers should “humanize the 3,000 lives that were lost on 9/11 … these were mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, children, siblings, coworkers, and friends.”
DeCuir says teachers should also acknowledge that 60 Muslims died at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that day, and help dispel the belief that “Muslims are not mourning the loss of people who died on 9/11.”