GREENSBORO — After a confusing, terrifying day of watching the news in school, Andrea Green gathered with her family around their television to hear what the president of the United States had to say.
“I remember us waiting to hear: What’s happening? Who attacked us? What’s going to happen next? Are we going to go to war?” said Green, recalling how she felt as a 10-year-old on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001.
Twenty years later, Green is a 30-year-old English teacher at the Middle College at UNCG Greensboro and is teaching then-President George W. Bush’s Sept. 11 address as an example of rhetoric — the art of persuasion — to her 11th-grade students.
As America approaches the 20th anniversary of one its darkest days, it’s hard to forget certain passages of that speech.
“Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts,” Bush said at the time.
“You could actually feel his sympathy, that he actually felt bad,” said junior Keyonna Oates after watching and reading the speech.
Green hopes to help her students analyze and use the tools of persuasive writing to connect with the events of Sept. 11 even though they weren’t born at the time.
Green has used the Bush address in years past as part of teaching literature students about rhetoric using American speeches and documents.
She especially wanted to talk about it with students this year due to the 20th anniversary of the attacks.
“I want them to feel our pain and share in these experiences,” she said. “And know how everything changed forever.”
Bush first learned that a plane hit the World Trade Center while reading to children at a Florida school. He returned that evening and gave his address from the White House at 8:30 p.m.
“It had been chaotic in my office as we put the statement together,” recounted Karen Hughes, the White House’s former communications director, in her book “Ten Minutes from Normal.” “The president had called with his thoughts. The speechwriters sent a draft. (Secretary of State) Condi Rice and her deputy Steve Hadley had policy points they wanted to include. Several other members of the communications team offered ideas.”
In his memoir, “Decision Points,” Bush said this about his address: ”Above all I wanted to express comfort and resolve — comfort that we would recover from this blow and resolve that we would bring the terrorists to justice.”
Over the course of his speech, Bush transitions from describing the terrorist attacks to praising the virtues of the United States, explaining emergency response plans and talking about how he would pursue justice.
“We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them,” Bush said.
Green asked her students to share their own ideas about what Bush wanted to accomplish with the speech.
She also asked them to read through the speech looking for examples of Aristotle’s modes of rhetoric: ethos, pathos and logos. Ethos is a speaker establishing their personal character and credibility. Pathos is about appealing to the emotions of the audience. Logos is putting together a logical argument, such as by sharing evidence or proving a point.
Take, for example, the second sentence of Bush’s address where he described the victims of the attacks as “business men and women, military and federal workers, moms and dads, friends and neighbors.”
“I put logos, but it could really be pathos, too,” junior Tsunami Lott said. “These are people that have lives and they have families and stuff like that.”
The students discussed a variety of potential examples of Bush trying to establish his character and credibility in the speech. They talked about passages where Bush appeared to express sympathy, possibly trying establish himself as someone not too far removed from regular Americans.
“I like how he tries to humanize himself and he tries to put himself in civilian shoes,” junior Keyonte Dotson said.
Another student saw an example of ethos, or personal character and credibility building, in Bush’s saying that he hopes all those who grieve “will be comforted by a power greater than any of us.”
Bush, he said, is sharing his belief in something bigger than himself.
“I feel anytime we break down anybody’s speeches in here,” Lott said, “I like hearing everybody else’s opinion and interpretation of what they think.”
Contact Jessie Pounds at 336-373-7002 and follow @JessiePounds on Twitter.