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Taking A New Course

Taking A New CourseSept. 11 attacks could reshape classrooms at Tufts and around the nation, say University experts

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [10.02.01] While it is too early to determine how history books will record the Sept. 11 attacks and their aftermath, there are already indications the catastrophic events are changing the history lessons -- and many others -- taught in classrooms around the country. With the nation is in the midst of an unprecedented "teachable moment," Tufts experts say teachers are experiencing new pressures to adapt and respond in their classrooms.

But many have found that their usual tools are less effective.

Classroom discussions, for example, are typically used to help primary and secondary school students understand and cope with national events of this magnitude. But many teachers are hesitant to delve into the discussions while so many of their students' questions have no clear answers.

"We're asking [teachers] to go beyond the rest of us, once again, into an area that no one has a road map for," Tufts' Richard Lerner told the Washington Post.

The Tufts professor of developmental psychology told the newspaper that schools can alleviate the pressure on teachers to "have all the answers," by bringing in experts from the community.

According to the Post, "[Lerner says] such voices will broaden the conversation and enlarge the circle of adults that kids know in this tense time."

At college campuses, the recent events have sparked a flurry of forums and class discussions on topics ranging from terrorism to the history of world religions.

But Tufts' Andrew Hess told The Boston Globe that colleges and universities should consider making permanent changes to their curriculums in light of recent events.

According to the Tufts professor, universities should increase their emphasis on "area studies" -- including courses on particular regions and languages. They were replaced by "functional studies" courses including conflict resolution and negotiation, he said.

Hess, who directs Tufts' Southwest Asia and Islamic Civilization program, told the Globe that "area studies" courses lost their favor after the Cold War when "the idea of specializing in a particular language or region seemed obsolete to many in academia."

Recent events prove that is no longer the case.

"Since English is the international language, since globalization has been so powerful, [the belief was that] local forces that oppose globalization are peanut in size. Why worry about Afghanistan," Hess told the Globe. "There should be a reversal of attitude. We have to understand the reasons why it's so difficult for Saudi Arabia to be an ally of the United States."

And history has shown that major international events can often spur on these changes.

The Russian's launch of Sputnik -- the first artificial satellite in space -- was one such example, Hess said.

"In the Cold War years after Sputnik, the United State injected into the education system a new emphasis on math, science and foreign languages," reported the Globe.

At Tufts, there is already evidence that professors are developing new courses to teach students skills that will be important to them in the coming years.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, "William Moomaw, a professor of international environmental policy at [Tufts'] Fletcher School, says his graduate classes will examine in more detail 'environmental security' -- patterns of resources and environmental degradation visible from satellites that can be used as potential signs of where political instability, future conflicts, sources of refugees and terrorism could develop."

While universities may have been slow to expand their offerings on terrorism in the past, despite indications that it was developing an increased presence on the world stage, Moomaw said he expects some immediate changes now.

"Universities all have been slow on the uptake," he told the newspaper. "But this time, I anticipate new courses, one or two by next semester."

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