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Teaching & Understanding Sept 11 Mark Hamm & Paul Leighton


David Emmons (Criminal Justice) and Paul Lyons (Social Work), Richard Stockton College of New Jersey

Sept 11 candle 9-11 ribbon memorial

Web Intro ~ Contents ~ Photo ~ Printable .txt version

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Class website has update (contains extensive additional material and links; excellent links to Sept 11 photos)


(This course was designed for a separate general education curriculum – outside the purview of particular departments - at our public liberal arts college.  Interdisciplinary and collaborative teaching is encouraged in this academic commons, so the course has faced few structural hurdles and encountered little political resistance.  We anticipate outside funding to attract prominent guest lecturers.  We are mounting an exhibit of photos from September 11 and its aftermath to open in the college’s art gallery as the course starts.)

CONTENT.  On the morning of September 11, 2001, Al Qaeda terrorists, on a suicide mission, crashed hi-jacked Boeing 727s into the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington DC.  The twin towers of the World Trade Center imploded, these tallest of US buildings vanished from the skyline, and nearly 3,000 officer workers, rescuers, and airplane passengers died.  In Washington DC, the Pentagon suffered extensive damage and a death toll of more than 250.  A fourth plane, apparently headed for another prominent Washington target, was seized from terrorists’ control by brave passengers.  It crashed into woodlands in the Laurel Highlands of western Pennsylvania, leaving no survivors.

This cataclysmic event resists comprehension because it was so unprecedented in design, unexpected and sudden in execution, and enormous in impact.  The tragedy resists, but does not defy, comprehension however.  September 11 was a watershed in history that must be understood in order to restore meaning to our world, to fight terror with enlightenment, and to prevent the unspeakable from occurring again.

In particular, we believe September 11 raises five important areas of inquiry, upon which this course will focus.

A.   What has been and should be our role in world affairs?

B.   What is the nature of terrorism in the 21st Century and the extent of its threat?

C.   How did Afghanistan come to be the base for Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, and what are the possible futures for this Central Asian country?

D.   Do fundamentalist Islam and Middle East conflicts breed hostility and terrorism towards the West?

E.   How has September 11 changed American life, and how do we redefine what is normal?

Each class will take up one or more topics from one of these five areas.  We propose the following agenda.

A.     America in the world

1.      American internationalism – the debate on nation-building

2.      “just wars”

3.      multi-culturalism and the American neglect of foreign language study

4.      American hegemony after the age of European empires

5.      the US in the Third World

6.      from Cold War to post Cold War

7.      Orientalism, the “clash of civilization,” and other paradigms of conflict in the world

8.      hating America

9.      globalization, one world, and the end of history

B.     Terrorism

10.  the Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden

11.  terrorism in history

12.  modern terrorism, domestic and foreign

13.  chemical and biological warfare

C.     Afghanistan and Central Asia

14.  Afghanistan in the 19th and 20th centuries

15. The Soviet-Afghan War (1979-89) and its legacies

16. The Taliban

17. Modernization in a tribal land, reconstruction in a devastated country

18. Women’s rights and human rights

D. Islam and the Middle East

19. Islamic fundamentalism and other movements

20. modern political Islam

21. the politics and economics of oil

22. Palestine and Israel: the Arab-Israeli conflict

F. American life

23. from September 11 until now: a brief history

24. the culture of remembrance: memorializing September 11

25. American patriotism

26. civil liberties and national security

27. redefining normal, seeing things differently

TEACHING.  This is a large-size class with an enrollment of over 200 students.  Three teaching techniques will prevail.  The course will be team taught by two faculty members, each of whom will be present at all classes.  Following brief lectures, the two instructors, often with one or more guests, will engage in serious discussion, including disagreement – a kind of academic “Firing Line.”  Our aim is to demonstrate that truth may be tentative and that disagreement is a defense against orthodoxy.  Student questions and comments will be encouraged.  We will enlist outside speakers, some from the Stockton faculty, others, experts from the Boston-to-Washington corridor.  Finally, we will employ electronic media as an adjunct to course presentations – video trailers, CD-R audio and video, photo and slide exhibits, and internet web site visits. 

ASSESSMENT. This is a groundbreaking course, in both content and technique.  We will assess the impact of the course on students’ perceptions and understanding of September 11, its causes, context, and consequences.  A pre-test at the beginning of the course will measure student views and knowledge of September 11.  A post-test at the end will document changes.

STUDENT ASSIGNMENTS/TESTS.  There will be mid-term and final exams.  Students will design a personal memorial about September 11, which focuses on feelings, insights, and hopes about this event, its causes, or consequences.  A variety of media and mediums can be used for this project. 

  •    Mid-term = 30% of grade

  •    Final        = 30% of grade

  •    Project     = 40% of grade

READINGS.  Students should purchase the following books for the course

   Bernard Lewis.  What Went Wrong: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response

   Ahmed Rashid. Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia

   Simon Reeve. The New Jackals: Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden, and the Future of  Terrorism

   Various authors. Anthology on America’s Role in World Affairs




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