Resources For Addressing Sensitive Issues:
Terrorism, Violence, And Conflict
Dr. Ava L. McCall
Berson, I. R. & Berson, M. J. (2001). Growing up in the aftermath of terrorism. Social Studies
and the Young Learner, 14, 6-9.
The authors offer advice to teachers in helping children cope with the September 11, 2001
terrorist attack. They encourage teachers to listen to children and respond to their
questions, but keep the discussion of the terrorist attack limited and continue classroom
routines. For children unable to voice their concerns, the authors ask teachers to notice
children who are becoming irritable, “clingy,” aggressive, or withdrawn as indications of
their need for support and comfort. Teachers should also observe children’s play for
destructive patterns and redirect into caring actions. The authors encourage teachers to
include positive actions, such as contributing to local food banks or learning about
diverse cultures in response to terrorism.
Berson, I. R. & Berson, M. J. (2001). The trauma of terrorism: Helping children cope. Social
Education, 65, 341-343, 385-387.
The authors suggest what teachers should look for in elementary, middle school, and high
school students as indications of difficulties in coping with the September 11, 2001
terrorist attack. The authors suggest teachers provide a safe environment for students to
discuss their feelings, guide them through students’ angry, scary feelings, give accurate
information, reassure them of their safety, maintain consistent class routines, keep
discussions limited to balance students’ need for discussion with the importance of
returning to safe routines, integrate anger management and tolerance-building activities,
and honor individual and community actions to help the victims of the terrorist attack.
Chick, K.A. (2004). Making meaning for children: The events of 9-11. Social Studies and the
Young Learner, 17, 24-29.
The author reviews several examples of children’s literature appropriate for grades one
through three and offers follow-up activities to the literature to allow students to discuss
the events of September 11, 2001. She also provides recommendations for teachers to
discuss children’s feelings and questions as well as deal with children’s nonverbal fears
portrayed through their play, art, and writing.
Cohen, R., Turk, D. & Klein, E. (2001). Debating war and peace in Washington Square Park.
Social Education, 65, 398-404.
The authors gathered and transcribed written comments posted on a temporary memorial
in Washington Square Park in New York City for the victims of the September 11
attacks. The comments reflected diverse views on military retaliation, praise for the sense
of community and civic actions resulting from the attacks, and concerns about civil
liberties, racial equality, and tolerance. Following the printed list of comments, the
authors suggest ways teachers might use the comments as primary sources with students.
Students can work in small groups to discuss main ideas and overall concerns and
questions reflected in the comments. The activities seem appropriate for upper
elementary, middle school, and high school students.
Editors. (2002). In the aftermath of September 11: Listening, learning, and teaching. Social
Education, 66, 308-310.
The article contains a list of articles, letters, and other items published in National
Council for the Social Studies publications which help teachers deal with the events of
September 11 in their classrooms. The publications address: dealing with tragedy,
searching for facts, responding as citizens, and responding as a nation. All articles are
available at www.socialstudies.org/resources.
Editors. (2002). Restoring the rights of Afghan women: An interview with Nasrine Abou-Bakre
Gross. Social Education, 66, 13-17.
Gross reviews women’s rights in Afghanistan beginning from the early 20th century when
it became an independent country until the Taliban came into power. Generally, women
gained rights until Taliban rule and had the right to work, become educated, move freely,
vote, become a candidate, and have legal protections. Women were a large part of the
workforce before the Taliban. Gross explained changes in requirements for women to
cover themselves. Women wore the veil until 1959 when the government made it
optional. The burqa came from India and was worn only by women in cities to show their
husbands’ status. Despite restrictions on women’s and girls’ education during the
Taliban, there were thousands of clandestine schools. Since the United Front has come to
power in Afghanistan, schools opened, women worked in health care, journalism, media,
education, and law, and wore regular clothes. Gross would like to see the Taliban acts
against Afghan women declared null and void, schools reopened, and women involved in
decision-making positions in the new government.
Editors. (2003). War with Iraq: A special section compiled by the Social Education staff. Social
Education, 67, 126-127, 180-184.
The article provides advice for teachers to talk with students about the war with Iraq and
its effects, including the importance of knowing good sources for various perspectives on
the war with knowing the students, their understandings, and questions regarding the war.
The authors also encourage teachers to teach about the current situation in Iraq, being
careful to use reputable sources, offer different perspectives, and encourage open
mindedness, reflection, and positive action regarding the war. Finally, the article contains
general web resources about the war and specialized web resources for teaching about
Iraq and U.S. policy toward Iraq.
Hess, D. & Stoddard, J. (2007). 9/11 and terrorism: “The ultimate teachable moment” in
textbooks and supplemental curricula. Social Education, 71, 231-236.
The authors review how top-selling U.S. history, world history, and government
textbooks published between 2004-2006, curriculum materials from six major non-profit
organizations, and lessons and a video developed by the U.S. Department of State
addressed the events of September 11, 2001. They found that most textbooks presented
terrorism as a fact and communicated that terrorism is more of a problem for the U.S. and
its allies than for other countries. However, the materials produced by other organizations
encourage students to question what terrorism is. Most of the materials did not provide
much information about the events of September 11, possibly assuming students already
knew this content. The authors find that most textbooks emphasize lower-order thinking
about what happened while the non-profit materials ask students to use higher-level
thinking and address controversies surrounding the concept of terrorism and the war on
Hobbs, R. (2001). Media literacy skills: Interpreting tragedy. Social Education, 65, 406-411.
The author described ways social studies teachers can integrate media literacy skills with
social studies. She suggests teachers explore with students how the September 11
terrorist attacks and the responses to the attacks were portrayed in the media. Teachers
might have students select the most important media examples (photographs, clippings,
or graphics) to place on a timeline. They might analyze media artifacts for author’s
purpose, attention-gaining devices, points of view, values, different interpretations, and
omissions. Teachers might also have students create media messages about different
topics related to the September 11 attacks. The suggested activities could be used with
upper elementary, middle school, and high school students.
Lapham, S. S. (2002). Repatriating Afghan refugees. Forging a new Afghanistan. Social
Education, 66, 25-28.
The articles contain a valuable timeline beginning with the terrorist attack on September
11 through the war in Afghanistan on December 31, 2001. A map of Afghanistan and
surrounding countries illustrate where Afghan refugees are currently located. Helping
Afghan people return to their cities and villages and developing a new Afghan
government are two challenges faced by Afghanistan. The author describes different
ethnic groups included in the new interim government and the difficulty of maintaining
Levin, D. E. (2003). When the world is a dangerous place. Educational Leadership, 60, 72-75.
The article focuses on strategies for helping young children deal with violence in the
news. Levin suggests that when children show violence in their play, teachers can offer
props to help them transform their play to peaceful resolutions. She also encourages
educators to talk directly with young children about violence in the news, especially what
they know and what is confusing or scaring to them. Levin recommends reassuring
children about their safety, providing information to clarify misconceptions, and offering
alternative solutions to violence. Finally, she advises early childhood educators to design
a news curriculum project to deal with news events more indepth, address basic skills,
and balance news about violence with news about people creating a caring, peaceful
Lipscomb, G. B. (2002). Dealing with crisis: Teachable moments in the social studies classroom.
The Social Studies, 93, 237-238.
The author reviews several strategies middle school classroom social studies teachers
used following the September 11, 2001 attack on the U.S. All strategies involved
discussion, but also included additional methods to focus students’ thoughts and feelings.
One was dealing with evidence by completing a K-W-L chart, followed by small group
discussions. Another strategy involved asking students to express their feelings, fears, and
reactions to the events in their journals, then sharing journals in small groups. A third
requested students to compare and contrast the events of September 11 to other historical
events, such as the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Yet another strategy included
encouraging students to interview parents, grandparents, or other adults to lean how they
dealt with a previous crisis. Finally, teachers asked students to analyze photographs from
the attack with guiding questions. The author evaluates the first two strategies as most
effective immediately following the terrorist attack.
Mehlinger, H. D. (2002). Teaching about September 11 and its aftermath. Social Education, 66,
The author offers four approaches for addressing such major events as September 11 with
older students. One is to focus on specific events and the role of the media and the
government in portraying current events. Another is to concentrate on the political
processes related to September 11, such as foreign policy and homeland security. A third
option is to address value issues in the conflicting actions of dropping both food and
bombs on Afghan villages. Finally, the author offers a conceptual approach in which such
concepts as terrorist, crusade, jihad, and collateral damage are clarified. The author
recommends helping students understand the value conflicts which lead to world crises
and concepts that help students understand how such crises occur.
Merz, G. (2001). Civil war in Afghanistan. Social Education, 65, 429-436.
The article contains background information and a lesson plan for teaching middle school
and high school students about the civil war in Afghanistan. The author introduces the
complexities of civil war anywhere and how civil conflicts can be affected by many
factors. The lesson includes background information on the geography, people, culture,
history, civil war, and the Taliban in Afghanistan. It summarizes different factors
contributing to Afghanistan’s civil war. Teachers could also use the background
information on Afghanistan as a context for the conflict between the United States and
Tell, C. (2002). The women of Afghanistan. Social Education, 66, 8-12.
The author provides background information on women’s rights in Afghanistan and
suggests teaching strategies for addressing women’s position in Afghanistan, including
comparisons with women’s status in the United States. The author explains who the
Taliban was and the restrictions on Afghan women’s rights after the Taliban came to
power in 1994 in Afghanistan. Women were required to wear the burqa, a head-to-toe
covering, with severe punishment if they lifted the veil in public. They had to be escorted
by a male relative when going out in public, were not allowed to be employed outside the
home, and could only be examined and treated by female doctors, which restricted
women’s access to medical facilities and doctors. Girls over eight years of age were not
permitted to attend school.
Webeck, M. L., Black, M. S., Davis, O. L. & Field, S. (2002). Both sides of the classroom door:
After 9-11, the many facets of teaching. Social Studies and the Young Learner, 14, 6-9.
The authors discuss different roles social studies teachers filled since September 11,
which provides readers with ideas for responding to the tragedy. Teachers have been
stewards or trusted caretakers by sponsoring collaborative responses to the September 11
attack. Such responses included creating a collage to honor the victims and workers of the
attack and developing a special assembly to honor community and national heroes and
leaders. Teachers have served as moderators by dealing with school district guidelines for
addressing the September 11 attacks as well as students’ needs in response to the tragic
event. Most teachers quoted in the article believed they should discuss the September 11
events with students because of the need to discuss current events, citizenship, and what
is happening in the world with students. One teacher made a class book illustrating the
country’s strengths. Teachers filled the citizen role as they addressed the meaning and
actions of citizens with students. Some classes sent cards through the Red Cross to rescue
workers and victim’s families, some sent contributions to America’s Fund for Afghan
Children, others collected food for a local food bank in need of resources when many
local resources were diverted after September 11. Teachers were also learners as they
learned how to appropriately address the tragic events with their students, including
discovering how to help children understand why anthrax or smallpox would be used as
Al-Windawi, T. (2004). Thura’s diary: My life in wartime Iraq. New York: Viking.
Middle school level/adult resource. The text is the diary of a 19-year-old Shia Muslim girl
who lived with her two younger sisters and parents in Baghdad at the time the U.S.-led
forces attacked Iraq and overthrew Saddam Hussein’s government. It begins on March
15, 2003, days before the U.S. bombed Iraq, and ends in early June, 2003, although a
postscript on December 14, 2003 comments about Saddam Hussein’s capture. The diary
documents how war affects everyday life, including the struggle to have enough water,
food, and medicines to survive. Thura and her family are unable to go to school or work
for much of the period of the book; they are concerned about their basic safety; they
cannot communicate with friends and family through their telephone; they cope with an
unreliable power supply; they witness the looting of hospitals, stores, and museums by
Iraqi people; and they grieve with friends and family over the deaths resulting from the
military conflict. Thura is troubled by increasing restrictions on women resulting from the
changes in Iraq, including wearing headscarves, baggy clothes, no makeup, and keeping
one’s eyes lowered in order not to call attention to oneself. The diary entries do not seem
to condemn Saddam Hussein nor the American forces, although they declare that most
Iraqis were happy when Saddam Hussein’s sons were killed. Thura closes with hope for
the future and leaves Iraq to attend the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
Cart, M.. (Ed.). (2002). 911 the book of help: Authors respond to the tragedy. Chicago: Cricket
Middle school level/adult resource. The text is a thoughtful, inspirational collection of
stories, essays, and poems contributed by established writers as they reflected on the
events of September 11, 2001. The editor organized the selections into chapters focusing
on healing; searching for history; asking why or seeking to understand; and reacting and
recovering. One of my favorite stories “Children of War” by Joan Bauer deals with a
young girl’s commitment to become a teacher as it is first challenged and then confirmed
by September 11. “Three Crises” by James Cross Giblin describes a teacher who listened
to children’s fears after the attack on Pearl Harbor, then transported them to another time
and place with a story. “Why? Why? Why?” by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos
provides insights into why the U.S., now the most dominant country in the world, has
become a target for terrorists. Betsy Hearne suggests that stories are a way to heal and
build connections with others in “Survival by Story” while Margaret Mahy cautions
readers to distinguish between “the simple truth of the story” from “the complicated truth
of the everyday world” in her essay “Colliding Stories.”
Hampton, W. (2003). September 11, 2001: Attack on New York City. Cambridge, MA:
Upper elementary/middle school level. For the text, the author collected personal stories
and many photographs illustrating the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World
Trade Center in New York City. The stories are told by people who lived through the
attacks, including those who worked at the World Trade Center and were in the building
when the planes hit, those who lived near the attack site, firefighters who risked their
lives to evacuate people, Mayor Giuliani’s leadership activities in coping with the
tragedy, and an ordinary man who wanted to do something to help, so distributed water
and removed debris in order to find survivors. The personal stories also include one about
Mohammed Atta, one of the leaders of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
Overall, through narratives and photographs, the text portrays details of the attack,
people’s escape from the World Trade Center and the area surrounding it, the firefighters
who assisted in the evacuation of the twin towers and the recovery of bodies, and the
personal effects of the attack on individuals as they tried to resume their lives.
Heard, G. (Ed.). (2002). This place I know: Poems of comfort. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick.
Elementary level. The editor collected 18 poems to comfort New York city
schoolchildren who witnessed the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11,
2001. The text provides new, unique illustrations for each poem based on each artist’s
interpretation of the poetry. Poems include “The Beginning” by Ann Turner; “Ring
Around the World” by Annette Wynne; “Commitment in a City” by Margaret Tsuda; and
“A Little Girl’s Poem” by Gwendolyn Brooks. The poems celebrate people and places
and offer hope.
Meltzer, M. (2002). The day the sky fell: A history of terrorism. New York: Random House.
Middle school level/adult resource. The author defines terrorism as “the exploitation of a
state of intense fear, caused by the systematic use of violent means by a party or group, to
get into power or maintain power. The party or group inspires the state of fear through
acts. . . that terrorize. Terrorism is a policy of intimidation” (p. 28). He traces the history
of terrorism beginning with the French Revolution Reign of Terror (1793 - 1794); the late
19th century revolutionary movement in Russia; 19th century Italian, Spanish, and French
anarchists; the Ku Klux Klan activities following the Civil War in the U.S.; 20th century
Irish Republican Army activities in Ireland; Arab and Palestinian terrorism in the Middle
East and Western Europe; Tupamaros organization in Uruguay; late 20th century terrorist
groups and individuals in Germany and Italy; the Weather Underground group in the
U.S., the terrorist states of Hitler’s Germany, Lenin’s and Stalin’s Russia, Mussolini’s
Italy, and Mao’s China; to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in the U.S. on
September 11, 2001. The author emphasizes that terrorist groups come from diverse
political orientations, justify their violent actions with the goal of creating a better society
or world, but indiscriminately hurt innocent people. However, Meltzer condemns all
terrorists because ends and means cannot be separated and one group has no right to
determine solely what the new society or world should look like.
Moses, L. F., Aldridge, J., Cellitti, A., & McCorquodale, G. (2003). Children’s fears of war and
terrorism: A resource for teachers and parents. Olney, MD: Association for Childhood
Adult resource. The purpose of this short book is to help children deal with their fears
related to armed conflicts and terrorist attacks. They review the history and background of
children’s fears, including fears related to war and terrorism, and the impact of context,
temperament, and age on children’s fears. An especially valuable aspect of the text are the
chapters which recommend ways teachers and parents can help children cope with their
fears through children’s literature and aesthetic experiences, such as sand trays, clay
sculptures, photographs, collages, play and drama. The authors list books appropriate for
children related to World War I, World War II, and the Israeli and Palestinian Conflict.
The authors close with briefly describing complex factors influencing adults as they help
children deal with war and terrorism.
Schwartz, T. J. (2002). The day America cried. New York: Enduring Freedom Press.
Upper elementary level. The author wrote the text to explain the events of September 11,
2001 and afterwards to children. In very simple language, she clarifies people’s feelings
and actions following the terrorist attacks, possible reasons for the attacks, and defines
terrorists as people who “try to scare us by suddenly attacking us without warning and
attacking people who are not soldiers.” The author offers a simplistic rationale for
President Bush’s decision to attack Afghanistan in retaliation to the terrorist attacks on
the U.S. The book could be used to discuss the September 11, 2001 events with children,
but adults should encourage children to consider peaceful avenues for responding to the
Rethinking Schools. (Winter, 2001). War, terrorism, and America’s classrooms: Teaching in the
aftermath of the September 11th tragedy. Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools.
This special publication by Rethinking Schools contains articles with valuable
background information for elementary teachers to use in teaching about terrorism. Some
of the articles are available as letter-size PDF for middle school and secondary students
and includes teaching ideas suggested by the editors. The articles offer general principles
for teaching about terrorism, guidelines for teaching young children about the war in
Afghanistan, one teacher’s approach to teaching fifth-graders about war and terrorism,
suggestions for encouraging students to question the meanings of terrorism, alternatives
to war for the terrorist attacks, and valuable background information on Islam and Arabs.
A list of resources for teachers is also provided. Copies of the publication can be
purchased from Rethinking Schools, 800-669-4192, or through the website
American Psychological Association
The website provides links to articles, books, and other resources for parents and teachers
in coping with trauma themselves and suggestions for adults to help teens and children
cope with and respond to terrorism and handle the anthrax scare.
American School Counselor Association
The website offers tips for teachers in how to respond at school to terrorist attacks on the
United States. It also suggests how teachers and parents should talk with children and
actions to take to help them deal with the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack and provide
a sense of stability and security.
Bank Street College of Education
The website provides interdisciplinary lesson plans appropriate for grades 3-12 for
dealing with the September 11, 2001 acts of terrorism. It also recommends children’s
books and online resources from the Bank Street Library.
Child Trauma Academy
The website offers links to various resources for parents and educators for helping
children cope with traumatic events, such as the terrorist attacks on the United States. It
includes background information on children who must cope with loss, stress, trauma,
and the effects of trauma on children.
Conflict Resolution Consortium
The website offers a peace education curriculum “Making Peace Where I Live” or
MAPWIL appropriate for educators to use with students ages 10-12. It introduces a
culture of peace, peacemaking traditions in different cultures, and encourages students to
learn about peacemakers in their local communities. A students’ guide is also available
which describes specific activities.
Educators for Social Responsibility
The website provides an important discussion guideline for parents and educators
“Talking to Children About Violence and Other Sensitive and Complex Issues in the
World.” It includes a list of questions that teachers and parents ask most frequently about
how to discuss events such as the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the fighting in
Afghanistan. It also contains lesson plans for teachers to use with students in expressing
their feelings and building community; recognizing and stopping discrimination; and
discussing conflict, war, and peace. The website suggests ways for teachers to respond to
violent events by building community.
ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education
The website lists web resources for teachers and parents to use in helping their students
and children cope with and discuss the September 11, 2001 tragedy. It includes resources
focusing on Afghanistan and the Islamic World, responding to terrorism, learning about
anthrax, and healing stories from America’s schools. The website is updated as new
resources become available.
National Association for the Education of Young Children
The website offers suggestions for helping children ages 3-7 cope with the September 11,
2001 disaster, including: give reassurance and physical comfort, provide structure,
welcome children’s talk about the disaster, focus on experiences which help children
release tension, model peaceful resolutions to conflict, maintain perspective on who is
responsible, and watch for behavioral changes.
National Association of School Psychologists
The website contains a valuable guideline for parents and teachers to help children cope
with the September 11, 2001 national tragedy. It suggests what all adults should do, what
parents should do, and what schools should do in assisting children in the aftermath of the
PBS: America Responds
The site offers lesson plans for different grade levels in dealing with peace, different
cultures, tolerance, and for learning more about Afghanistan and the Taliban.
Annotated bibliography list