Teaching the Levees | Teachers College Columbia University

Skip to content Skip to main navigation
News & Events Header

Teachers College Newsroom

Skip to content Skip to content

Teaching the Levees

On Wednesday, October 17, 2007 the LSU College of Education Curriculum Theory Project hosted an event showcasing a multi-disciplinary curriculum with online resources based on When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, an HBO documentary about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath directed by Spike Lee. The evening featured a reception, curriculum presentation, clips from the documentary, and an audience-involved question and answer session.

On Wednesday, October 17, 2007 the LSU College of Education Curriculum Theory Project hosted an event showcasing a multi-disciplinary curriculum with online resources based on When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, an HBO documentary about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath directed by Spike Lee. The evening featured a reception, curriculum presentation, clips from the documentary, and an audience-involved question and answer session.

The curriculum, entitled “Teaching The Levees,” was spearheaded by Teachers College, Columbia University Professor of Social Studies and Education Margaret Crocco and funded through a $975,000 grant from the New York City-based Rockefeller Foundation.

“After reading about the curriculum, I thought it would be wonderful to invite Dr. Crocco to LSU for our Holmes graduate students and student teachers,” said College of Education Associate Professor Nina Asher. “After seeing the impact this curriculum project had on Dr. Asher and the colleges and schools involved,” said College of Education Dean M. Jayne Fleener, “we wanted to expand this beyond our students to reach out to those in the community and to concerned citizens of this state.”

In fact, a central theme of the curriculum involves citizenship and social responsibility, along with complex, controversial issues such as race and class. Crocco and her team of Columbia University faculty, students, graduates, and staff designed “Teaching The Levees” to explore the many sensitive issues raised in Lee’s film.

“Teachers often don't bring up topics of race in the classroom…it's part of the evaded curriculum,” Crocco said.

“With a well-prepared teacher, you might get more debate about sensitive problems."

In an interview with HBO, Spike Lee said, “I think when we look back on this many years from now, I'm confident that people are gonna see what happened in New Orleans as a defining moment in American history.”

While Crocco and her colleagues based the curriculum on Lee’s documentary, they too wanted the lessons to be pertinent across time and place, “We are trying to suggest this is not a problem only for New Orleans or our country,” she said. “The lessons exposed by Katrina and its aftermath have many historical parallels, from flooding, to earthquakes, to terrorist attacks, to name a few.”

“We focused on the questions:  ‘Who are we as a country?’ ‘Who do we want to be?’” Crocco explained. Every lesson is structured around a big question related to some aspect of the film.

Some topics addressed in the “Teaching The Levees” project include the question of whether low-lying areas should be rebuilt; a lesson on how space, race, and poverty converge in this American tragedy; New Orleans and its sense of place and home; media coverage of the events surrounding the hurricane; and the idea of disaster preparedness and the problems related to not being prepared for such events.


To create the curriculum, several teams of researchers and advisors produced five categories of lessons, including economics, civics, history, geography, media literacy, designed for use in high schools, colleges, community, civic, and religious groups.

Each lesson was intended to encourage groups to gather information that produces “democratic dialogues,” defined by Crocco as reasoned discussion that should ultimately lead to some type of action. For example, some lessons encourage teachers and students to investigate their own community's disaster plan or to do something that signals a sense of responsibility to others in the community.


Just in time for the second anniversary of Katrina, Teachers College Press distributed “Teaching The Levees” curriculum books free of charge to 30,000 high school and college teachers, and community organizations across the country in August 2007.

In addition to the printed materials, Columbia University’s EdLab at the Gottesman Libraries of Teachers College also created a Web site, www.teachingthelevees.org, to collect feedback from those who use the curriculum in actual classrooms and to provide a virtual space for people across the world to engage in the themes underscoring the curriculum. The Web site provides supplementary curriculum materials and multimedia resources developed in collaboration with experts in the field such as Diana Hess, who has taught about the teaching of controversial issues; Jane Bolgatz, author of Talking Race in the Classroom; and Gregory Thomas, Deputy Director of Planning and Response in the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

In addition to Hess, Bolgatz and Thomas, other experts joined the project advisory board to review the lessons, to provide feedback for the teams, and to ensure that the printed and online materials are relevant to the issues. The board includes Douglas Brinkley, an historian at Rice University and author of The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast; Gloria Ladson-Billings, an education professor at the University of Wisconsin, whose expertise is teaching about race; Henry Louis Gates, The Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University; Milton Chen, an expert in educational media and Executive Director of the George Lucas Educational Foundation; and several other prominent historians, professors and experts on race, history, and the Gulf Coast Region.

“While ‘Teaching The Levees’ clearly originates from a sense of bewilderment and even outrage at the unaided suffering associated with Katrina, it does not preach,” Crocco said. “There is enough ambiguity in the film to engage people in a dialogue that will lead to debates and different points of view. The teacher’s obligation is to create a climate in which that is possible.”

“And, our obligation as a flagship university,” added Fleener, “is to empower Louisiana teachers with opportunities to enrich the climate not only of our classrooms but of our global community.”
 
Reprinted with permission from the College of Education, Louisiana State University.

Published Thursday, Nov. 29, 2007

Teaching the Levees

On Wednesday, October 17, 2007 the LSU College of Education Curriculum Theory Project hosted an event showcasing a multi-disciplinary curriculum with online resources based on When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, an HBO documentary about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath directed by Spike Lee. The evening featured a reception, curriculum presentation, clips from the documentary, and an audience-involved question and answer session.

The curriculum, entitled “Teaching The Levees,” was spearheaded by Teachers College, Columbia University Professor of Social Studies and Education Margaret Crocco and funded through a $975,000 grant from the New York City-based Rockefeller Foundation.

“After reading about the curriculum, I thought it would be wonderful to invite Dr. Crocco to LSU for our Holmes graduate students and student teachers,” said College of Education Associate Professor Nina Asher. “After seeing the impact this curriculum project had on Dr. Asher and the colleges and schools involved,” said College of Education Dean M. Jayne Fleener, “we wanted to expand this beyond our students to reach out to those in the community and to concerned citizens of this state.”

In fact, a central theme of the curriculum involves citizenship and social responsibility, along with complex, controversial issues such as race and class. Crocco and her team of Columbia University faculty, students, graduates, and staff designed “Teaching The Levees” to explore the many sensitive issues raised in Lee’s film.

“Teachers often don't bring up topics of race in the classroom…it's part of the evaded curriculum,” Crocco said.

“With a well-prepared teacher, you might get more debate about sensitive problems."

In an interview with HBO, Spike Lee said, “I think when we look back on this many years from now, I'm confident that people are gonna see what happened in New Orleans as a defining moment in American history.”

While Crocco and her colleagues based the curriculum on Lee’s documentary, they too wanted the lessons to be pertinent across time and place, “We are trying to suggest this is not a problem only for New Orleans or our country,” she said. “The lessons exposed by Katrina and its aftermath have many historical parallels, from flooding, to earthquakes, to terrorist attacks, to name a few.”

“We focused on the questions:  ‘Who are we as a country?’ ‘Who do we want to be?’” Crocco explained. Every lesson is structured around a big question related to some aspect of the film.

Some topics addressed in the “Teaching The Levees” project include the question of whether low-lying areas should be rebuilt; a lesson on how space, race, and poverty converge in this American tragedy; New Orleans and its sense of place and home; media coverage of the events surrounding the hurricane; and the idea of disaster preparedness and the problems related to not being prepared for such events.


To create the curriculum, several teams of researchers and advisors produced five categories of lessons, including economics, civics, history, geography, media literacy, designed for use in high schools, colleges, community, civic, and religious groups.

Each lesson was intended to encourage groups to gather information that produces “democratic dialogues,” defined by Crocco as reasoned discussion that should ultimately lead to some type of action. For example, some lessons encourage teachers and students to investigate their own community's disaster plan or to do something that signals a sense of responsibility to others in the community.


Just in time for the second anniversary of Katrina, Teachers College Press distributed “Teaching The Levees” curriculum books free of charge to 30,000 high school and college teachers, and community organizations across the country in August 2007.

In addition to the printed materials, Columbia University’s EdLab at the Gottesman Libraries of Teachers College also created a Web site, www.teachingthelevees.org, to collect feedback from those who use the curriculum in actual classrooms and to provide a virtual space for people across the world to engage in the themes underscoring the curriculum. The Web site provides supplementary curriculum materials and multimedia resources developed in collaboration with experts in the field such as Diana Hess, who has taught about the teaching of controversial issues; Jane Bolgatz, author of Talking Race in the Classroom; and Gregory Thomas, Deputy Director of Planning and Response in the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

In addition to Hess, Bolgatz and Thomas, other experts joined the project advisory board to review the lessons, to provide feedback for the teams, and to ensure that the printed and online materials are relevant to the issues. The board includes Douglas Brinkley, an historian at Rice University and author of The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast; Gloria Ladson-Billings, an education professor at the University of Wisconsin, whose expertise is teaching about race; Henry Louis Gates, The Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University; Milton Chen, an expert in educational media and Executive Director of the George Lucas Educational Foundation; and several other prominent historians, professors and experts on race, history, and the Gulf Coast Region.

“While ‘Teaching The Levees’ clearly originates from a sense of bewilderment and even outrage at the unaided suffering associated with Katrina, it does not preach,” Crocco said. “There is enough ambiguity in the film to engage people in a dialogue that will lead to debates and different points of view. The teacher’s obligation is to create a climate in which that is possible.”

“And, our obligation as a flagship university,” added Fleener, “is to empower Louisiana teachers with opportunities to enrich the climate not only of our classrooms but of our global community.”
 
Reprinted with permission from the College of Education, Louisiana State University.
How This Gift Connects The Dots
 
Scholarships & Fellowships
 
Faculty & Programs
 
Campus & Technology
 
Financial Flexibility
 
Engage TC Alumni & Friends