A teachable moment

discussion at the Oakland Military Institute. Photo by Susan Tripp Pollard/Bay Area News Group

Social studies classrooms were abuzz today with debate and analysis of Osama bin Laden’s death. (See Tribune story here.)

Some teachers asked students to compare media coverage of the development. Others supplied basic facts about the raid and the broader conflict with terrorist groups such as al-Qaida. They touched on a wide range of issues, among them: patriotism, war, sovereignty, the celebration of death, politics, justice and vengeance.

Brian Rodriguez, an AP history teacher at Encinal High School in Alameda, wrote this to me, in an email:

Obviously this is a teachable moment, and I sought to make historical analogies, as my advanced placement students prepare for AP exams in United States history and European history this Friday. About 5% of our students are Muslim – from both Arab countries and Bosnia.

Annie Hatch, a teacher at Life Academy, wrote:

We talked about who bin Laden was, why was he was so “wanted,” how his death came about… I opened it up for kids to ask whatever questions they had — many wanted to know whether 9/11 was a conspiracy or not. And we talked about what it meant to cheer for the death of someone — did that feel like justice being served? Why were people feeling so patriotic — waving flags and singing our anthem? We briefly talked about whether killing one person could be a “solution” to terrorism and why terrorism is so different than warfare in the past — the whole idea of fighting a nebulous group of people united by an idea rather than borders…

It was very informal, more of a conversation, but even when I moved on to what we were in the middle of (preparing for a Model UN conference), kids were still talking about it.

Tyree Bell, a 12-year-old student at Oakland Military Institute, didn’t seem to feel any sense of relief from the successful raid — quite the opposite.

“Here comes World War IV,” he said, explaining that he considered the current conflict to be World War III.

“Once you do revenge, it never stops,” he said.

What did you discuss today with your students, your kids or your classmates? What do you hope students take away from what they learned in class? Did anything in particular strike you about the discussions you had?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Can’t believe it

    Students need to make connections to themes in United States history. why were thousands of college students in the street around Washington D.C.? why did thousands stream to the former site of the World Trade Center? It was not because we are bloodthirsty, but it did speak to the cathartic nature of the moment. Americans are truly tired of the endless war on terror and the drain on our nation’s resources. Osama Bin Laden attacked our way of life and has made a significant dent in our the way we travel. But to paraphrase Chirchill, it is not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning.