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Dangerous Memories and Teaching 9/11

Author’s note:  The below is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Teaching Terror:  9/11 and Collective Memory in America’s Classrooms.  It will be available from Routledge early Aug.  

One other important intersection between the literature on historical memory and the literature on peace education is Zembylas’s concept of critical emotional praxis (Zembylas 2008, Beckerman and Zembylas 2012).   In his words, critical emotional praxis “creates openings for different affective relations with others”.  The point here “is to explore the conditions under which trauma impacts educators’ and students’ lives, to destabilize and denaturalize that regime of thought that perpetuates a conflicting ethos with those who are deemed responsible for ‘our’ trauma, and to invent new practices of relating to others”.  For this to be achieved, what he calls “dangerous memories” (2008, p 133-157) must be allowed to come to the fore.  Trauma obviously creates pain and suffering, around which we as humans naturally desire to create meaning. We also desire to restore physical, mental, emotional and even I would argue cultural security.  In seeking to achieve both of these goals, we often harden the boundaries between “us” and “them”, them being of course the groups we have identified as the perpetrators.  For teachers, this means being aware of the spaces of inclusion and exclusion in our classrooms.  Trauma narratives often privilege the narrative of those positioned as the victim, and marginalize and silence those seen as the perpetrators.  

In the case of the historical trauma of 9/11, dangerous memories might include memories of Muslim students, immigrants, or other similarly marginalized students in the wake of 9/11.  The 1953 CIA coup in Tehran is another appropriate example, as are US military bases in Saudi Arabia and the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine.  Memories of FDNY firefighters who did not have working radio equipment should not be censored.  Stories of Afghan civilians struggling to survive the Soviet invasion, the Taliban regime and the US invasion after 9/11 must be given air.  Surfacing and creating space in the classroom for such dangerous memories is essential for students “to understand how trauma operates through affective connections and articulates its differences from other places around the world” (Zembylas, 2008, p. 5).  Such pedagogy “develops capacities for critical emotional praxis” which can inspire and strengthen the skills needed for peace building.  Zembylas refers to this as the “pedagogy of dangerous memories” (Zembylas with Beckerman, 2008, pg. 133-156).  As we will see in Chs. 3-5, many classroom teachers find it difficult enough simply to find time to address 9/11 at all, given the demands of state centralized curriculum.  Thus it is hard to imagine critical emotional praxis or discussions around ‘dangerous memories’ taking place on any regular enough basis to disrupt harmful orthodox national narratives about 9/11.  Rather dramatic changes in school structure and policy would be necessary.  That said, as we will see more in Ch. 4, there are teachers finding subversive and creative ways to at least complicate the narrative of 9/11 somewhat and to humanize the Other. 

 

2 Comments

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Thank you!  You address a critical issue here.  The concept of “critical emotional praxis” is very useful in helping conceptualize strategy in situations where we know something needs to be done, but we don’t know what to do.

Profile Photo by Cheryl DuckworthPh.D.

Thank you kindly, Ron! 


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