Virginia DOE 9/11 sensitivity training video tells teachers to reject American exceptionalism

Teachers should not reproduce notions that 'American experiences are more significant,' video says

The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) posted a video on YouTube that trains teachers not to teach students about American exceptionalism during lessons on the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Ahead of the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the VDOE posted a video on Friday training teachers about "culturally responsive and inclusive lessons" surrounding that day and how they can teach students about it "in a way that does not cause harm."

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The nearly two-hour lecture features American University professorial lecturer Amaarah DeCuir, who explains at the start of the video that her views and opinions are hers and "don’t reflect the views and opinions" of the VDOE, despite the opening slide saying this video is part of VDOE's VA Equity webinar series. 

In the video, DeCuir instructs teachers to avoid teaching students about American exceptionalism, saying they should instead focus on "our shared humanity."

"We're also not going to reproduce what's understood as American exceptionalism — this understanding that America is a land at the top of a beautiful mountain and that all other countries, nations, and people are less than America," she said. 

"We’re not going to reproduce notions that American history and American experiences are more significant than the experiences or histories of other people," she continued. "So we’re going to begin with a common understanding of our shared humanity, regardless of our national, racial, linguistic or religious origins."

DeCuir stressed the importance of "humanizing" Muslim students and acknowledging the existence of anti-Muslim racism, and she also advised against using 9/11 as an opportunity to teach about Islam.

"It’s going to be important as we begin to plan our 9/11 lessons in a way that does not seek to reproduce anti-Muslim racism," she said. "We’re not going to reproduce a false assumption of Muslim responsibility for 9/11. We’re just going to begin right there and name that there is no responsibility and therefore we’re not going to use this space to try and untangle this."

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"Do not use this day to amplify the extremists themselves and don’t use the day to amplify their acts on 9/11. You name what happened and that’s it," she added.

DeCuir also said that it would be "highly inappropriate" for teachers to demand students, especially Muslim students, to "stand and condemn 9/11" in a performative way. 

Another section of the training instructs teachers to use the word "extremists" instead of "terrorists" to help "disrupt this false equivalency of Muslims and terrorism."

"I choose to use the word extremists and I use this based on the scholarship of other scholars and activists in the community that will also use this word to describe the perpetrators of the crimes associated with 9/11," she said.

Asra Nomani, vice president of strategy and investigations at Parents Defending Education, and a Virginia resident, blasted the presentation as "hijacking history" and "sanitizing the truth of the 9/11 attack" in a statement to Fox News.

"As an American Muslim parent and journalist who has investigated Islamic terrorism for the past 20 years, it’s offensive, immoral, unethical, manipulative and dangerous," Nomani said. "The Virginia Department of Education is woke-washing the 9/11 attacks. Speaker Amaarah DeCuir instructs teachers to erase the fact that the 9/11 hijackers were motivated by an extremist interpretation of Islam. Decuir advises teachers to talk about ‘extremists’ behind the 9/11 attacks, without identifying them as Muslim extremists or calling them out as ‘terrorists.’ It would be like teaching about the Holocaust without discussing Nazi Germany."

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"What’s more," said Nomani, "the Virginia Department of Education is promoting a victim narrative for Muslims by instructing teachers to focus on ‘anti-Muslim racism’ that allegedly sprang out of 9/11. The Virginia Department of Education is taking a page out of the playbook of truth-deniers within the Muslim community who don’t want to own up to the real problem of Muslim extremism, but meanwhile dedicate lessons to ‘white supremacy.’ The Virginia Department of Education is failing students – and America – and needs to immediately remove this irresponsible instruction and apologize for endorsing this dangerous rewriting of history a platform."

When asked for a response to Nomani's criticism, DeCuir pointed Fox News to an article she wrote Tuesday published in The Conversation, which argues that Muslim students are often subjected to ridicule and blame for the 9/11 attacks and that those experiences can lead to higher levels of psychological distress. 

"Students can learn better when educators foster a sense of emotional safety and belonging," DeCuir wrote in the article. "Teachers should pay attention to the conversations between students to ensure that they are not repeating harmful words and actions that target Muslims."

The VDOE issued a statement to Fox News saying DeCuir's comments do not reflect the positions of the VDOE.

"This webinar was part of a series intended to help teachers create welcoming and affirming classrooms for all students and in this specific case to provide support to Muslim students, who may be subject to bullying around the anniversary of 9/11," Executive Director of Communications Ken Blackstone said. "As stated in the presentation, the speaker made it clear that her views and opinions do not reflect the views and opinions of the VDOE. As such, any statements made in the webinar are not to be attributed to the Virginia Department of Education."

The video has since been deleted from YouTube.