The outpouring of love and remembrance of those we lost on that tragic day 18 years ago was overwhelming this year. One thing we can all agree on – regardless of party lines – is the after effect was the complete opposite of what those cowardly terrorists attempted to do, which was to tear us apart; instead it united us together.
But how do we teach our kids about that violent day with all of the horrific images that are an unfortunate necessity of telling the story?
This new HBO documentary is designed to do just that.
One thing we always say on September 11th, the anniversary of the worst attack against the United States in history, is never forget. Every morning on that day, you’re bound to see the hashtag “never forget” trending.
But it’s been eighteen years and that means elementary, middle and even high schoolers weren’t born yet or were too young to remember. For them, it’s not about remembrance; it’s history to them.
That’s why filmmaker Amy Schatz made it her personal project to help particularly young children how to understand what happened on that fateful day.
Schatz said, “When a child does that, what he or she finds are some pretty horrific images that are not necessarily appropriate for kids. So I felt a responsibility to try to fill that void and try to give kids something that isn’t horrifying and kind of fills in the gap.”
Think about how hard that task truly is? How are you supposed to tell the story without showing graphic images and videos?
Some of the most harrowing parts of watching the videos other than knowing that thousands of people were dying before our very eyes, helpless to do anything about it, was the New Yorkers’ reaction to what was happening right in front of them. It’s the gasps. It’s the pain in their voices. The sheer panic of everyone; trying to wrap their minds around what was happening as if shock had completely taken over.
It’s something you have to be very careful about showing to kids. It could traumatize them.
The documentary “What happened on September 11” debuted on HBO Wednesday night and also had a companion piece that featured former students at a high school near Ground Zero.
Schatz worked with the Sept. 11 remembrance museum on the story, filming two men who work there giving presentations to third graders. Stephen Kern, who worked on the 62nd floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower, talks about being evacuated.
Matthew Crawford discusses his father who was a firefighter who died that day. She also found a middle school in Secaucus, New Jersey, that teaches history through art and poetry, helping students process the emotions of what they learned.
She said in the documentary, “One of the biggest questions the kids have is ’why? ‘Why would somebody do that? Why would there be such cruelty? That’s a very difficult thing to grapple with and answer so that was the trickiest part of the project.”
It also goes into some detail about the life of Osama bin Laden. Just like learning about Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, it’s an unfortunate necessity to learn about him.
The most graphic video in the movie that Schatz felt was necessary to show was the second plane hitting the building but that was the worst of it.
Schatz said she didn’t want to spend too much time on them “so that we didn’t create too many lingering after-images in” the children’s minds.
It’s important to teach those who never experienced the tragedy to always honor those who died that day.