This week as the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, I plan to gather my third-, fourth- and fifth-graders around me. I will tell them, "Our country is a beautiful place."
I’ll keep this in mind as I think of the moments when we were clearly afraid.
My focus will be the beauty of the United States. Like the 24-color box of crayons students see and use every day in their school projects, there are people of many hues with many beliefs who come together to live and work. Its residents are what makes the country beautiful and can be a model for the whole world.
I will show students the Great Seal of the United States and point out the words our country’s founders deemed important, “E Pluribus Unum” (out of many, one). I will pass out a new penny to each one of them and show them that “E Pluribus Unum” is stamped in larger letters on the new design.
I’ll ask, “What do you think this phrase means?" Then we’ll see where their thoughts and feelings take us.
Some of them may want to draw a picture of this guiding Latin motto. Others may want to write a poem. Some may want to write a story or play. And still others may just want to talk about it. That will all be fine with me. I want students to create something beautiful to show the beauty of the ideals of the United States.
Next I will bring them around my rocking chair and read the picture book The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein. I will read it with a soft voice and tell them that when the tightrope artist Philippe Petit looked up at the Twin Towers in 1974 he saw the space between the buildings instead of the buildings themselves. And when Gerstein wrote the story he thought about the buildings but saw the lives of the people who were memorialized there on Sept. 11, 2011.
It is here that we’ll talk about fear. When we think about 9/11, we are afraid. It was a moment America was violently attacked by a small group of people. Those kinds of attacks caused the deaths of innocent people and buildings to crash to the ground in debris and dust. That is scary.
Despite that memory of fear, I will look at my students and remind them that America is a nation of people of different beliefs, colors and cultures. And our classroom reflects the diversity of the United States. In class, we do not attack or destroy each other. No, we are going to build classrooms and schools and communities where we respect each others’ beliefs, ethnicities and cultures. We will continue to build something beautiful; a place where we respect, accept and appreciate each other and all people around us.