ARTICLE

“I Was Born on September 11, 2001”

After a candid classroom discussion, this high school teacher marvels at the questions and concerns that educators like herself must confront at school. 

It’s a Monday in America.

I ask the students sitting in front of me if they have any questions about current events. I preface it with my usual ground rules: We will be respectful; we will try to see many perspectives; we do not have to agree with one another, but we do need to speak nicely.

A flurry of hands is raised in this sophomore, accelerated history classroom.

“What is an executive order?”

“Which countries are included in the ban?”

“How many executive orders can a president use?”

“Is it a Muslim ban?”

“What does the actual ban say?”

I try to navigate these heavy questions one by one. I give historical perspective. I try to show both sides.

One white male student says, “The ban does not say ‘Muslim.’” So we read the full text of the ban. He is correct.

One black female student says, “My parents are from the Caribbean. I only wonder how I would feel if the Dominican Republic was on that list of countries. My family members travel here for holidays and special occasions.”

One Muslim female student says, “Terrorism is not about one religion.”

Another Muslim female student raises her hand and with trepidation says:

I was born on September 11, 2001, in Iraq, at the same time the towers were falling. My parents made sure my birth certificate said September 12. In 2004, we had one day to flee Iraq. We stayed in Syria for two months and then a few months in Jordan, finally settling in Egypt. In Egypt, we fled the violence of the Arab Spring and came to the United States in 2011. My parents have green cards. My mother’s citizenship ceremony is supposed to be next month, but we heard that ceremonies are being canceled. My father stood outside our Egyptian apartment complex to protect us in 2011—now he is telling my brother not to show the Iraqi flag in his car. My mother will not wear her hijab.

The student is in tears. The room is dead silent.

By the end of the day, I am spent.

I pack up to leave for the day just as a former student enters. He tentatively asks if I have time to chat. Of course, I say yes. He does not know the day I had.

He tells me that he needs to write a letter to President Trump for an assignment.

“What would you like to say?” I ask.

“I am worried about reading my letter aloud to the class. People might call me names,” he replies.

After asking him why he is worried, he confesses that if he were old enough to vote, he would have voted for Trump. He tells me that his peers have called him a racist, a sexist and anti-Muslim. He laments that he feels like he can’t have conversations with most people.

I let him speak his mind to me. I am glad to offer him a safe space. I share with him that I have also been writing—about polarization and its impact. I suggest he too writes a letter to President Trump discussing his perceptions.

As I drive home, I marvel at my day. It’s a Monday in America.

Brown is a high school social studies teacher who is exploring teaching in the age of Trump.