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September 7, 2023

How To Talk About 9/11 and Counterterrorism

Today’s students will learn about 9/11 as a moment in history—but the threat of terrorism, while it may look different today, still looms large. Use these resources to help your students understand the background.


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The deadliest terror attacks in U.S. history took place on Sept. 11, 2001. Targeting the symbolic centers of U.S. business and security, the attacks killed nearly 3,000 people and fundamentally changed Americans’ perceptions of security, privacy, extremism and geopolitics.

Students today will learn about 9/11 as a moment in history—but the threat of terrorism, although it may look different today, still looms large.

Here are resources that can prove helpful as you commemorate the anniversary of 9/11.

What is terrorism?

Let's go back to basics: What is terrorism, and why does it occur?

Definitions of terrorism differ worldwide, but in the U.S., we refer to it as violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups driven by ideology. The nuance comes when discussing motivation and whether an attack represented international or domestic terrorism. This introductory video breaks it all down for you.

Use these resources to help your students further define the basic elements of terrorism and the commonalities among terrorist groups around the world. 

High School Educator Tip: Check out CFR Education’s introductory lesson plan on terrorism, made for teachers by teachers.

Countering terrorism

Although counterterrorism gained significant attention post-9/11, U.S. administrations have been combating terrorism for decades.

Use these two multimedia resources to explore the history of U.S. counterterrorism efforts and the tactical and strategic policy tools that facilitate those efforts: 

Higher Ed Tip: After 9/11, the U.S. focused on developing democracies across the Middle East to stop terrorism. How effective was this strategy? Learn more from a senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Determining a response to 9/11

Role-play how the National Security Council should advise the president after 9/11. Should the U.S. take military action, and if so, at what scale? Try the simulation.

Source: CFR Education
Source: CFR Education

How has terrorism evolved?

Although the 9/11 terrorist attacks made terrorism a headline issue in the U.S., global terrorism peaked dramatically more than a decade later. Use the five data charts in this resource to show the threat of terrorism around the world and how it has changed over time.

International terrorism spiked in 2014, but it is domestic terrorism that has been on the rise recently. Use this resource on radicalization and right-wing extremism to help your students understand the unique challenges posed by domestic extremism.

Higher Ed Tip: Lean on this curated guide for in-class discussions, assignments, essays, and exams to test and apply students’ knowledge and understanding.

Watch: ‘The Threat of Terror at Home and Abroad’

Check out this recorded session of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Young Professionals Briefing Series to hear experts discuss the global terrorism threat landscape. Watch now.

Source: Council on Foreign Relations
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

9/11 Lesson Plans and Resources

From examining the events of 9/11, to discussing American values, and connecting 9/11 to the Constitution, this list of resources has several options for teachers to cover the topics surrounding 9-11-2001.

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CFR Education

CFR Education is an initiative within the Council on Foreign Relations that aims to make complex foreign policy and international issues accessible for middle, high school and college students through its educational products: World101, Model Diplomacy, and Convene the Council.These resources equip

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