Teachers are reluctant to discuss the September 11 attacks on America because they fear it will provoke racism and Islamaphobia in class, according to a survey.
By Stephen Adams
3:35PM BST 24 Jun 2011
Those in schools with high numbers of Muslim children are particularly concerned about talking about the atrocity – despite it being arguably the defining event of the 21st century so far.
Alison Kitson, faculty director at the Institute of Education at London University, which carried out the survey, said teachers should “grasp the nettle” and tackle the subject. They should credit children with more maturity, she said.
Four in five teachers (81 per cent) said that when teaching the topic, it was a challenge to break “students’ stereotypes and prejudices about other cultures”.
The academics polled almost 200 teachers across the country and also visited eight schools: four in London, and one each in Leeds, Worcestershire, Oxford and Surrey.
At two schools, teachers showed “serious resistance” to raising the subject, while in another there was “some resistance” from staff.
Teachers in schools with higher proportions of children from ethnic minority backgrounds were most against discussing 9/11.
The attacks, which happened a decade ago this September, killed almost 3,000 people. They also precipitated the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
However, teachers in inner-city schools said that raising the subject would cause “sensitivity” for Muslim or Afghan pupils, and strong feelings in those with family members or friends in the armed forces.
But Ms Kitson, who is also director of education for the 9/11 London Project, a charity devoted to teaching “a proper understanding of what happened”, told the Times Education Supplement that teachers needed to “grasp the nettle”.
She said: “All teachers said the topic would cause sensitivity, despite their type of school.
“All said this was due to their intake of pupils, even if they had high proportions of Caribbean, Muslim, or white pupils.
“But children themselves were keen to avoid stereotypes when talking about the issue, and dealt with it in a much more mature way than teachers would give them credit for.”
Almost two-thirds (64 per cent) of teachers said they had discussed September 11 in the last year, although only half said this was done as part of a formal lesson.
Dr David Starkey, the historian, said teachers were “frightened” of raising the issue but he added: “We should not pillory them.”
Their fear was derived from the fact that society as a whole now recoiled from discussing racially sensitive subjects – a matter he said needed to be addressed.
“It’s very easy to see why teachers are frightened of teaching this, which is what it really amounts to,” he said. “But we should not pillory them. It would be very easy to target school teachers, but very wrong.”
“I think until we are much much clearer – not just in schools but in public debate – that freedom of speech is valuable and can be a licence to offend, this will go on.”
The survey, carried out on the charity’s behalf, surveyed history, religious education, personal social and health education (PSHE), and citizenship teachers.
Academics also interviewed staff from the British Council, the Association for Citizenship Teaching, the Citizenship Foundation and the Schools Linking Network, which works to build bridges between schools with different ethnic profiles.