In the opening segment of What Happened? The Story of September 11, 2001, a news special that aired on Nickelodeon Thursday night, viewers learn about the misconceptions children, especially those who were born after 2001, have about the events of 9/11. (Watch a video clip below.) One girl thinks there were 500 planes in the air. Another thinks the terrorists were Japanese. Another child believes the event never even happened. Linda Ellerbee, who has been hosting news specials for children for nearly two decades, believes that, as the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, it's high time to educate children on what happened that day. "Ignorance is not bliss," she says. "Ignorance is dangerous." Did her special, which is bound to be re-aired, succeed?
This is the right approach: Ellerbee achieves the right tone, appearing "casual, like a trusted friend," says Maria Sciullo at The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. First-person accounts from those who experienced the tragedy are key for kids who've learned about 9/11 largely through overheard conversation. The special is aimed specifically at children, which explains its to-the-point brevity and simple, straightforward explanations. But "given the hysteria that exists even today in some quarters, it might not be a bad idea to make it required viewing for adults, too."
"Linda Ellerbee takes right approach in special on Sept. 11 attack"
Though parental supervision is required: The special is "informative, respectful, and poignantly truthful," says Carey Bryson at About. It's also unavoidably graphic and "some kids may be very disturbed by the accounts of what happened." Thankfully, the special also captures the "human triumph of spirit" that came out of the tragedy, which makes it worth kids' while to weather the more disturbing images. Parents should be on hand to give comfort, and answer questions that are sure to arise as their children process the program.
"September 11 — Talking with kids who are too young to remember"
It's not enough: Ellerbee is right that children need a proper education on the events of 9/11, says Mark A. Perigard at the Boston Herald, which is why this program is flawed. It is too short. "It zips across a lot of ground in a half-hour that leads to a compression of information that wouldn't fly on Wikipedia." The hurried segment on weapons of mass destruction, in particular, is so confusing that adults would have a hard time understanding — "never mind kids."
"Nickelodeon gives little ones the 411 on 9/11"
Watch a video clip from the special below: