Scholastic Withdraws The Path to 9/11

About Scholastic: News

Finally got around to reading Education Week for September 20 and found this article concerning Scholastic’s decision to pull the classroom materials they had created to accompany the controversial ABC TV drama, The Path to 9/11.
Here’s the intersection of media literacy and documentary film: ABC maintained that their film was a fictionalized version and had already taken a lot of criticism about evident bias against the Clinton administration. Scholastic created materials that furthered inaccuracies. So, Scholastic turned it into a media literacy lesson and, according to Education Week, “replaced the disputed materials with an online discussion guide that took a much different approach to the ABC movie–one that aims to help students dissect the ways the news media convey various messages” (p. 9, September 20, 2006). The article quotes Diane Ravitch who says that creating classroom materials based on “partially fictional accounts of history” is problematic.

Certainly, there are quality documentaries about 9/11 available. But as I’ve seen already in my brief foray into documentary films, documentaries are also representations of history with creators who have to make choices about what to include.

And, as I was flipping the channels, I happened upon a segment of Antiques Roadshow that dealt with Civil War photographers including Mathew Brady and Alexander Gardner, both of whom, it seems, felt free to rearrange scenes by moving bodies or adding clouds. The vagaries of photography of the time meant live subjects had to stand still, patiently waiting for the photo to be taken. This is clearly one of those places where media literacy overlaps with content area teaching. What’s the skill? Students need to understand how media is created and how it can be manipulated. Students should also understand how it has been manipulated historically; they should be able to critically examine historical materials. We put so much stock in primary sources that sometimes we might forget to question those sources.

In the case of 9/11, the history is still being debated but I think there are some things we agree on: there were no weapons of mass destruction and Iraq didn’t have anything to do with it. Yet, the Scholastic materials didn’t mention the failure to find weapons and seemed to make the suggestion that Iraq was involved. They were called to task by Media Matters. I guess this is what “progressive watchdogs” are good for.

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