Elgin High School teacher Kevin Gallery has been ecstatic since classes to begin his unit on 9/11 as a segue way to introduce the idea of the American Dream.
He said having his students study the tragedy is a decision he couldn’t resist.
“These kids just don’t know,” Gallery said. “The world has changed incredibly as a result. I don’t think the kids get that. I feel it’s someone’s job to educate the kids. I don’t know if they talk about it at home. That’s why I started doing it.”
Students in Gallery’s class will study 9/11 starting the week of Sept. 12 as a way of introducing one of their next assignments: an essay on the American Dream. At the 10th-grade level, a department-wide effort requires teachers to develop a set of lesson plans that aim to address the theme in writing.
Gallery said it takes a week to get through his unit on 9/11. During that time, students will learn by watching videos, TED Talks and YouTube clips that feature stories of high interest and high emotional impact, he said.
“We’ll have discussions based on the videos we watched,” Gallery said. “All of this really leads to their first essay, which is based around the American Dream. I suppose we learn about 9/11 in the context of what is the American Dream, what are American values, what are Western values as opposed to Non-Western values, just different ways of thinking people have in the world.”
Jazmin Martinez, 16, of Elgin, said she first learned of the attacks when she was a seventh-grader.
“I think my family didn’t really talk about it at home,” she said. “When I first heard about it, it was something totally new.
Martinez said at the time, it didn’t concern her why her parents hadn’t discussed what happened on 9/11.
“I think they knew I was going to learn it at school,” she said. “Once I came home, my questions were answered.”
Martinez said she now gets a lot of her news through her social media feeds and that has provided her opportunities to learn more about the world around her.
Martinez said she heard of fear growing across the nation for another 9/11-type of tragedy.
Still, Martinez said the sense of community she feels at Elgin High School is strong.
“I feel safe,” she said. “I don’t think 9/11 has anything to do with the type of safety now in this school.”
Angel Guzman, 16, of Elgin, said he learned of 9/11 at a young age. He said he views the world as unbalanced.
“Right now, a lot of people are just focused on the negative, even though there’s a lot more positive stuff that happens, like, more than negative stuff,” Guzman said. “People will always focus on the negative. Like on the news, all you hear is all bad stories—crimes. Hardly do you hear good stories about something or someone.”
Guzman noted that he has some friends who are Indian but not Muslim, and said he and his friends like to joke around and poke fun at them at times.
“I play basketball with a few Indian friends here and there,” he said. “People play around with them, like, ‘you’re a threat’ and stuff like that. But that doesn’t make sense because obviously they’re not Muslim.”
Guzman said these friends don’t appear to be bothered when people joke around and said they’ve never expressed any concerns of being singled out or targeted.
Gio Rojo, 16, of Elgin, said he views the world in turmoil.
“I see the world to be safe, but at the time same not the whole world,” he said. “There’s some parts that there’s straight up conflict, like, the Middle East is full of conflict right now. There’s nothing stable around there.”
Rojo noting the complexities of the war on terrorism as it stands today, said the country has been at war for too long.
“It’s kind of senseless because when Sept. 11 happened George Bush just sent everybody over there,” he said. “In my opinion, it causes too much damage.”
Rojo said remembering 9/11 on its anniversary brings sadness but also a feeling of positivity when he thinks about the efforts of first responders on that day.
“All the firefighters and policemen in the World Trade Center and the ones in the Pentagon trying to save everybody from burning alive or from the smoke….” He said reflecting on videos seen in the past. “Everybody remembers the firefighters and the policemen.”
Gallery said the unit kind of opens their eyes to what he considers the most important event in his lifetime.
“It had a great impact on me,” he said. “I watched that day in the classroom.”
Gallery continued to explain why students typically see great benefit in his approach to exploring the American Dream.
“At end of the day, they do get something very positive out of it,” he said. “It makes them think about what the flag stands for and that we live in a pretty good damn place.”