How About Telling Our Children the Truth?

by on September 10, 2011 · 10 comments

in Education, From the Soul, History

Photo courtesy of marclove on

Thoughts Stemming from 9-11

My radio alarm woke me up with someone summarizing a study that found that a significant number of schools have not done much as far as engaging students in learning experiences involving 9-11. Because it’s too “controversial.” Is that not sad?

That reminds me of a man on TV, not too long after that fateful day, who said we should tell our children that nothing like this will ever happen again.

My, my, I would never tease a child with a guarantee like that in a world where evil never sleeps. All we can offer children, as it relates to their well being, is our love and a promise that we would go to any lengths to protect them from harm. Any pledge beyond that would be based on wishful thinking, on hopes and dreams.

I can’t help but wonder where grownups ever came up with the notion that children can’t deal with reality when everyday throughout this world they are tolerating every sort of reality there is.

Rather than jive our children we should dedicate ourselves to helping them make sense of their world.

When I was a child society told me that Pearl Harbor would never happen again. Well, September 11, 2001 sure seemed a lot like December 7, 1941 to me. In both scenarios I see planes coming out of nowhere, suddenly zeroing in on targets filled with people. I see explosions. I see fire. I see smoke. I see people running for their lives. I see flags waving in the horrific hurricane winds of war. And back then I had more questions on my mind than grownups of the Greatest Generation were willing to even try to answer. In the silence, in what was not said, my contemporaries and I were lied to.

So when the mighty towers of the World Trade Center fell I felt compelled to want to reach out to every child I could find to share with them a little something to think about in the midst of the madness. I was retired so I didn’t have a school full of kids in my reach so I wrote a poem and faxed it to schools and other places where children might be, a poem in which I tried to plant seeds that might lead them to dream of a better world. I asked them:

“How many ways can you love?”
“How many ways can you care?”
“How many lives can you touch?”
“How towards others can you be more fair?”

And when I first met with a group of children after 9-11, I shared how sad and frightened I was, just as they were, and I let them know that how we were feeling was normal. And I could literally feel the sighs of relief that issued from them just from having their sorrows and fears validated.

Now when it comes to schools, what happened on that September day captured our children’s undivided attention and when they’re that interested in something they’re ripe for learning – and making it all relevant is the order of the day.

Hey, from the fires and melting steel that brought the towers down, from the structures that were built to hold back the Hudson River as it stressed weaknesses at the base of the destruction, there are many lessons for our children. Chemistry lessons. Geometry lessons. Physics lessons…

Out of the rubble came stories of heroism and people helping other people, lessons regarding the power of the human spirit.

Before the smoke had died down the big questions of our times surfaced: Religious questions. Questions related to the pursuit of peace and justice. Questions regarding civil and human rights. Questions relating to war. Questions our children must answer if their generation is to realize a hopeful world.

Due to the tragedy in it all there’s no better time in the history of humankind than now to help our children entertain new ways of living, new ways of getting along. Now’s the time to appeal to their highly creative natures, to their humanity, and give them opportunities to explore and clarify their budding philosophies about life. They need opportunities to draw and paint and sculpt and write and dance and emote on stage so they can get to the core of themselves and best determine what they have to offer the world.

Our world is big and scary but it remains filled with promise. But that’s only if we, rather than conceal it from our children, open it up to them so they can sense its needs and dare to change it for the better in a spirit of love.

Photo courtesy of  marclove on

Read more Thoughts From the Soul of the Tucson Kid, Ernie McCray.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

annagrace September 10, 2011 at 12:28 pm

Ernie- those last two lines are so poignant and so true. Thank you.


Ernie McCray September 10, 2011 at 11:06 pm

Thank you.


Marilyn Steber September 11, 2011 at 9:28 am

I will impose a blackout of stations broadcasting the events of 9-11. Because:
I got on a plane in Louisville bound for Charlotte, NC about the time the hijackers were boarding in Boston. By and by, the pilot of my homeward bound plane from Charlotte announced that we were under attack and had to land the plane at the nearest airport that could take us. He then said we were not a target. For three days I was in a very expensive hotel in Houston (I think) watching and rewatching as the towers were hit over and over. America’s dirge droned on for months to the sound of bagpipes playing the only song pipers seem to know, no offense to pipers.
For New Yorkers (my mother was one at the time) who saw the towers go Up, it was terrible to watch them come Down on TV. She knew I was flying somewhere so she was frightened until she heard my voice from Texas.
No, I refuse to go back to that day.


Ernie McCray September 11, 2011 at 11:37 am

I hear you loud and clear and I think your refusal to go back to that day makes sense considering what you experienced.


thinking out loud September 11, 2011 at 9:03 pm

Well if a parent is not telling a child the truth about old saint nick or the easter bunny or the tooth fairy I doubt they will broach the subject of 9-11.


Kim Brogan September 11, 2011 at 9:09 pm

Dear Mr. McCray,
I was curious, did you teach sixth grade at Perry Elementary back in the mid-sixties?

Kim Brogan


Ernie McCray September 12, 2011 at 12:59 pm

I’m proud to say that I sure did. 1962-69. I have the fondest of memories from those years in Bay View Naval Housing.


Ernie McCray September 11, 2011 at 11:09 pm

You got a point there.


Dave Baldwin September 14, 2011 at 12:21 am

Thanks, Ernie. Your last paragraph sums up what we need to tell our children about dealing with the dangers of our world.


Ernie McCray September 14, 2011 at 10:36 am

I agree (smile).


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