Schools are forum for discussing bin Laden’s death

The U.S. has been searching for bin Laden during most of students' lives.

May 3, 2011

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(WBEZ/Linda Lutton)
At Kenwood Academy, students were asked to write what they know about 9/11, Al Qaeda, and Osama bin Laden.

At Rickover Naval Academy High School Monday, students—known here as “cadets”—stood in their platoons on the grassy ball field before school.

And along with the regular morning announcements, they listened to Commander Mike Tooker give this historic message:

“In case any of you haven’t heard, last night the president came on television and notified the entire world that Osama bin Laden has been taken out by Special Forces.”

Tooker made sure students knew that Navy Seals had a hand in that, but he says, overall, students at the city’s only naval academy responded fairly quietly to the news.

“It was my own naval science instructors—the other retired military people who work here—they were the ones who raised their hands and started clapping a little bit, and then the students kind of rolled into that and they started clapping as well.”

In fact, Tooker says, it’s possible that the naval academy’s big win in Friday’s baseball game against the Marine Corps Academy was the bigger news.

“That actually generated more applause than the fact that Osama bin Laden had been taken out by U.S. Special Forces,” Tooker says.

Memories of 9/11 for many of the city’s high school students are interspersed with crayons and kindergarten songs. The U.S. has been looking for Osama bin Laden for most of their lives.

Senior Jocelyn Aguilar, 18, watched the second plane hit the World Trade Center on television with her mother, who’d picked her up from school.  She was seven at the time. Aguilar says May 2 will remain etched in her mind, as well.

“Oh yeah, I’m definitely gonna remember this day…. You know the whole feeling you got with September 11—this is kind of something that marks as well. “

Aguilar, who plans to enlist in the military when she graduates in June, says students and teachers spent a class period reading news sites about bin Laden’s death.

“It’s a good thing, but at the same time it’s just going to erupt a lot more bad stuff. I’m enlisting in the Marine Corps so I’m definitely going to see a part of that as well. ... It’s kind of like a bittersweet feeling.”

On the other side of the city, students also pondered what the news would mean.

In a fifth period Global Issues class at Kenwood Academy High School on the city’s South Side, students worked to put terrorism networks and two wars into context. Their questions guided the discussion—and there were lots of them: Why wasn’t bin Laden captured rather than killed? Would the killing affect President Barack Obama’s chances at re-election? Are we at greater risk of a terrorist attack now? How do we know for sure that we got bin Laden?

“Does this mean anything for our troops? Like is anybody coming home? Does that fix anything?” one girl wanted to know.

A classmate responded, “I don’t think it does, because he’s more of a figurehead. Like this isn’t really gonna change anything with the war at all.”

In a class earlier in the day, students drew parallels between the violence caused by terrorism and gang violence in their neighborhoods.