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Flags or Farce: American Patriotism After 9/11

Created by:
Katie DeRichie
Greater Egg Harbor Regional School District

Jim Erney
Greater Egg Harbor Regional School District

9/11 and its Aftermath

Grade Level:
9 to 12


A stroll down Main Street America in the days and months following September 11th 2001 showcased a universal theme of patriotism. Street lights served as impromptu flag poles, radios in barber shops played patriotic songs, and people in local diners spoke of pride in local and national servicemen. For the first time since World War II, Americans had a unified sense of purpose and pride in their country. In many ways the 9/11 attacks united the country in a manner previously unseen. However, not everyone was included in these patriotic celebrations. Many Muslim-Americans experienced their own degree of terror in the days and months following the attacks.

In this lesson, students will be introduced to a variety of patriotic symbols and ideas that arose in the U.S. following 9/11. First, they will view a number of video clips and listen to music that will convey that prevailing spirit. On the second day of the lesson, students will be exposed to events that contradicted that aura of patriotism by reading oral histories that highlight the prejudice and discrimination experienced by Muslim-Americans post 9/11. As their assessment, students will use knowledge gained from classroom activities to construct an essay explaining whether or not Americans could be defined as patriotic in the days and months following the 9/11 attacks.

Historical Context

The Industrial Revolution was a turning point in America in a number of ways. Specifically, America became a country that was heavily dependent on oil. As a result, America became highly invested in the Middle East economically and politically. This status as a nation-builder and a protectorate created a strong military presence in Middle Eastern countries. As American influence in the Middle East grew, resentment of U.S. presence also rose in some Arab communities. For example, radical Muslim leader Osama bin Laden issued two fatwas directed at eliminating the U.S. presence in the Middle East through violence. As bin Laden's influence grew, so did the boldness of his plans. The plot to hijack planes and attack the World Trade Center originated in 1996 and finally came to fruition on September 11, 2001. Nineteen terrorists were successful in hijacking four planes: two targeting the World Trade Center, one targeting the Pentagon, and a fourth that never reached its destination as a struggle between terrorists and passengers resulted in the plane crashing in Shanksville, PA. In total, 2,995 people were killed, the World Trade Center was ruined and part of the Pentagon was destroyed.

There were varied responses for the attacks on America. While there were many expressions of American pride in the days and months that followed the terrorist attacks there were also examples of racial profiling and prejudice. After 9/11, Muslim-Americans' experiences differed sharply from many other demographic groups in America. In many ways, individuals in the Muslim-American community became a tangible face of terror. Several people attacked and discriminated against them to express their anger against the terrorists who had attacked the U.S. The inception of the US Patriot Act further contributed to an atmosphere of suspicion towards Muslim-Americans. This kind of civic terrorism countered the spirit of patriotism that most of America embraced post-9/11.

discrimination, patriotism, racial profiling, American identity, unity

Goals and Objectives:

After completing this activity, students will be able to:

1. Identify themes of patriotism and nationalism.

2. Discuss how diverse Americans experienced unity and patriotism in the months following 9/11.

3. Analyze primary sources by reading the oral histories of Muslim Americans.

4. Prepare for the HSPA test by honing their writing skills through practice.


STANDARD 6.1.2. (Social Studies): Formulate questions and hypotheses from multiple perspectives, using multiple sources.

STANDARD 6.1.7 (Social Studies): Analyze social, political, and cultural change and evaluate the impact of each on local, state, national, and international issues and events.

STANDARD 6.4.5 (U.S. History): Compare and contrast key events and people associated with foreign policy, including the fall of communism and the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, United States involvement in Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Kosovo, the Iran Hostage Crisis, and the war on terrorism.

Equipment, materials and other technology needed:

Smart board

Computers with Internet Access

Interviews with Inder Jit Singh and Salmaan and Zaheer Jaffery from Columbia University's 9/11 Oral History Project (Appendices A-C)

Essay Assignment (Appendix D)

Essay Rubric (Appendix E)

Details of Activity

To begin the lesson, the teacher will provide the students with the historical background of the attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001. Students will then listen to 9/11 musical tributes by Alan Jackson, Lee Greenwood, and Toby Keith(Web Resources 1-3), and read Karlyn Bowman's article describing American patriotism following the attacks (Web Resource 4). The class will then discuss the prevalence of patriotism in America during this time. Students will be asked to create a definition of American patriotism in the wake of 9/11 and describe the climate of the country.

The second part of the lesson will require students to work in small groups. Each group will receive one of three oral histories with a Muslim-American describing his experience after the 9/11 attacks (See Appendices A-C). Students will read and discuss the interviews with the other members of their group focusing on how the oral histories represent America as compared to the the 9/11 tribute video (Web Resource 1). As a group, students will re-evaluate the post 9/11 climate in America based on the new information presented.

Practice and Reinforcement

Individually, students will write a persuasive essay describing the climate of America in the days following the 9/11 attacks. Was American patriotism inclusive or divisive? The essay will require students to investigate further their position using books, newspaper articles, websites, oral histories, and other reliable sources. The essay topic will require students to agree or disagree with this statement: Americans acted patriotically in the days following the 9/11 attacks. Students must describe whether America was a nation united or a nation divided during this period. The paper must be a minimum of three pages in length and reference at least three sources (see Appendices D&E for formal essay assignment and grading rubric).


See web resources and supplemental materials below.

Web Links:
This 9/11 tribute video shows the attack.

Patriotic photo montage

Song, "Courtesy of the Red,White and Blue"

Article: "American Patriotism in 2010"

Supplementary Materials





For more information about the Teaching American History Program click here