116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Gregory Wickenkamp was a senior at Washington High School in Cedar Rapids when planes struck the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
Twenty years later and now a social studies teacher, Wickenkamp finds it challenging to teach his students about what happened that fateful day.
“There’s still so many things as a country we have not resolved,” said Wickenkamp, who teaches eighth-graders at Fairfield Middle School in Fairfield.
The attack was coordinated by a terrorist organization that claimed to be acting in the name of Islam. This sparked Islamophobia and xenophobia that still is with us, Wickenkamp said.
At the time of the attacks, Wickenkamp was friends with a student at his school who emigrated from Pakistan. Wickenkamp’s family warned him: “Be careful of your friend.”
Discussions in schools about the 20th anniversary of the attacks this year is further complicated by the chaotic withdrawal by Aug. 30 of all U.S. military forces from Afghanistan — leaving the Taliban once again in charge of the country as it was on the day of attacks staged by the al-Qaida terrorist organization it was harboring.
Over 929,000 people have died in the two decades since the Sept. 11 attacks due to direct war violence, according to a study on the costs of war by the Watson Institute at Brown University. Over 387,000 civilians have been killed, 38 million people have been displaced and over 7,000 U.S. soldiers have died in the wars. The United States has spent over $8 trillion on war since the attacks.
These are a few of the topics Wickenkamp will ask his students to think critically about when talking about Sept. 11, 2001.
“It’s so important to our history,” he said. “The war on terror is ongoing, and it’s sort of this forever war in many ways.”
Five years ago, a former foreign exchange student Wickenkamp had taught chose to seek asylum in Canada rather than return to his home in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital. His family has recently been targets of the Taliban, and Wickenkamp is trying to help them resettle in Canada with their son.
“I’m so happy and grateful his family will be able to resettle and possibly reunite after half a decade of not seeing their son,” Wickenkamp said.
Marion High School social studies teacher Brian Voss said the goals of teaching history are to help kids contextualize it and — as the saying goes — to not repeat mistakes of the past.
Around the anniversary of Sept. 11, Voss takes time to show students news footage from when the towers were struck
They read a handout about counterterrorism expert Richard Clarke, the national coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counterterrorism for the United States between 1998 and 2003 who later became a critic of the President George W. Bush administration’s counterterrorism efforts and decisionmaking in expanding the war to Iraq.
It’s just as important for students to learn about what happened in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s that led up to Sept. 11, Voss said.
Although Voss, 27, was in third grade the day the towers were attacked, he remembers it vividly — the date is also his birthday.
“I turned 8 that day,” he said. “My teacher did have the coverage of 9/11 on in class. I’ll let people decide for themselves if that was a good idea or not.”
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