At the foot of the World Trade Center amidst the chaos, a story of survival lives on 20 years later. This story was one told in the pages of a children’s book, ‘This Very Tree’, written by Sean Rubin about the Callery Pear Tree that sat outside the Twin Towers in 2001.
“It was there when the buildings came down. It survived, it was the last thing to be pulled from the rubble after September 11,” Rubin said.
The tree was replanted at the 9/11 Memorial Plaza. Rubin took his own children there, in a sign of resilience and hope, looking for a way to introduce today’s children to a moment in history that forever changed America.
“Even though the story is about the tree, the tree is really like a human. It experiences the trauma like a human does. It’s a gentle way into the conversation,” Rubin said.
It’s a tool for those who weren’t around then to learn about that historic moment. A day that isn’t always necessarily a part of school curriculum.
“If you’re in a state with highly standardized curriculum, they don’t feel they have the time to teach something that they are not tested on. We did get a lot of responses that it’s not part of my course,” University of Wisconsin professor Jeremy Stoddard said.
Stoddard is part of a team that’s been studying 9/11 school curriculums nationwide for the last two decades, releasing a 17-page report his year.
Some of the details the report found include:
- 12 percent of teachers don’t include 9/11 in their lesson plans at all.
- 79 percent of teachers only do it on the anniversary of the attacks.
- 76 percent teach about the day by using news reports from that day or documentaries.
Then there are many teachers choosing to focus not necessarily on the day, but its effects.
In Illinois, there is no mandated curriculum. In many cases, it’s in the hands of the individual teachers or districts to decide what to teach about 9/11. With a difficult topic to tackle in the classroom, the surviving tree story is resonating with students.
“The biggest thing that I’ve heard is that it created a space for people to be able to talk about what happened,” Rubin said.
The book is just one tool that chronicles that day. As far as a discussion about terrorism and the global War on Terror, the report listed that it is a priority for many teachers.
With no single way to address the events, lesson plans continue to evolve greatly with each passing year.
“If the goal of learning history is to become informed citizens and to learn from the past, to understand and make better decisions in the future, then we need to do a better job of that,” Rubin said.