CORVALLIS - On Monday, one day after the 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Corvallis Middle School social studies teacher Chris Maul-Smith encouraged his students to empathize with the victims of that day, to feel their sadness.
"After the attacks, they studied all the phone messages that were left by people who knew they were going to die," Maul-Smith told his captivated audience. "These were people calling their family members one last time. Do you know what was, by far, the most common message left on that day? It was ‘I love you. I love you. I love you.' Think about what you would say in that situation, if you were trapped in a burning building..."
Maul-Smith let the question hang in the air for a few moments, and most of the students were lost in thought.
"This was an event that was captured live by television cameras and broadcast all over the world," Maul-Smith explained. "We were watching people at the end of their lives. Some of them had to jump from the buildings to their death. In a way, it was fascinating, but very tragic. It was a very human experience."
Maul-Smith told the students that it is actually a good thing to feel the pain and fear that the victims and their family members must have felt that day.
"Don't be afraid to connect with history in a human way," he said. "Connect with your heart. If you can make those connections, you can understand why things happen. And humans haven't really changed much, so you may be able to make good decisions in life."
Because the students were 2 years old on 9/11 and have no memory of the event, Maul-Smith and his student teacher Mike McDonald painted a vivid picture of the tragic events that day.
McDonald, who was a fifth-grader at Corvallis Middle School on that day, told students about waking up and watching the news all day.
"I remember my dad turning to me and saying the world is going to change because of this," McDonald told the class. "And he was right."
Maul-Smith asked the students to share what they knew of the event.
Seventh-grader Payton Miller said she remembered that there were heroes that day.
"I remember hearing about how the people on one of the planes fought with the terrorists and that's why the plane crashed in Pennsylvania," she said. "The people on the plane knew they were heading to Washington, D.C., because they got calls from their family."
Maul-Smith told the students that airport security wasn't what it used to be.
"You know, we used to be able to go into the cockpit and shake hands with the pilot before we took off," he said. "Those days are long gone now."
Seventh-grader Devin Challinor asked the question that probably many young people today want to know about 9/11.
"Why did the Afghanistan people and the Iraq people fly the planes into the buildings?" he asked sincerely.
"Ironically, no people from Iraq or Afghanistan were flying the planes," McDonald explained, to looks of surprise from the class.
"Most of them were from Saudi Arabia, and Osama bin Laden was originally from Saudi Arabia."
Maul-Smith said it is a common misconception among his students that because America is involved in two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that those countries must have attacked the U.S.
"I don't blame them for thinking that," he said. "Actually, most adults today probably don't even realize that."
Maul-Smith and McDonald had their hands full trying to convey the full magnitude of the events of that tragic day into one half-hour lesson, but they did an admirable job. They gave the students a homework assignment to ask their family members what they remembered from 9/11 as well, and passed around newspaper articles on the event.
"I'm hoping they leave class with a better understanding of what happened," McDonald said. "We have a whole generation of students now that doesn't remember that day or wasn't even born yet, but our entire country was changed because of that day. Understanding 9/11 will help them understand a lot of things that are going on in our world today."
Reporter David Erickson can be reached at 363-3300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.