THE BLOG
05/02/2011 02:34 pm ET Updated Jul 02, 2011

Can We Teach About Osama Bin Laden's Death if It Is Not on the Test?

When airplanes crashed into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, I, like millions of other Americans, felt fear and helplessness.

No one knew who was behind the attacks, how many more were coming, or what could be done about them.

At one time, I would have gone to work at my job as an editor of a small Missouri daily newspaper, put together an AP package on the attacks, assigned reporters to localize the story, and either worked on a sidebar or provided commentary.

When I heard the news, I was nowhere near a newspaper office. I was standing in front of a classroom of eighth-grade creative writing students in a trailer in Diamond, Mo.

And I, like thousands of teachers across the United States, had the important, but unenviable task of helping explain the unexplainable to students.

My thoughts went back to that day, nearly 10 years ago, after I heard the news last night of the death of Osama bin Laden.

On Sept. 11, 2001, I quickly made the decision to turn on the TV in my classroom, tuning it to the one station it picked up, and each hour my students heard the updates, while we took time to discuss what had happened, and I attempted to answer their questions.

It was something new to all of us. My class shared the trailer with a fourth-grade class, whose teacher had not heard the dictate of the elementary principal (high school, middle school and elementary school were all located on one campus in Diamond) that the attacks were not to be mentioned to the little ones.

The fourth-graders came into my classroom to watch since they did not have a television in their classroom. Their eyes were glued to the screen and their questions, when we took breaks for discussion, were thoughtful and intelligent.

One of the jobs of public schools and public school teachers has always been to prepare students to participate in our society. That includes a basic understanding of our history and our government and a knowledge of what is going on in the world around us.

On Sept. 11, 2001, teachers helped provide context for the most horrific act of terrorism in United States history.

When President Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden, my thoughts wandered back to that day, but then I realized something.

How fortunate is it for students across America that bin Laden's death took place at a time when standardized tests have been completed for this school year?

A knowledge of the world around us does not appear to be a priority to those who have shackled schools in chains of "accountability" and "reform".

Understanding the importance of the death of Osama bin Laden does not help students understand math problems, and it does nothing to raise their scores on standardized tests.

Had this momentous event taken place one month ago, many teachers across this great country would have had to ignore the news in their classrooms. Being citizens of the United States and the world is not a priority in this landscape of billionaires who seek to turn public education into an assembly line for underpaid workers (if public education manages to survive).

If this were a month ago, teachers in many school districts, fearful of the impact of No Child Left Behind, branded as failures if test scores slip even a decimal point, would have been told not to veer from the test prep curriculum.

If the death of Osama bin Laden is not on the test, then you do not teach about the death of Osama bin Laden.

This morning, thousands of teachers across the U.S. will spend some time talking to students about what happened Sunday. Students will be able to express themselves verbally and in writing about the event -- skills which should be prized as our educational system is allegedly racing to the top.

Important national events belong in the classroom. The demise of Osama bin Laden, a man whose evil has shaped the course of the past decade in this country, ranks among those events.

Thank you, Mr. President, for waiting until testing season was over. Thanks to you, students across the U.S. will have an opportunity to learn something besides how to bubble in answers.