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Spike Lee's "Levees" Inspires A Social Studies Curriculum


Margaret Crocco

Professor of Social Studies and Education Margaret Crocco will lead the project.

A group of TC faculty members, students, staff and alumni has received $975,000 from the Rockefeller Foundation to develop a multi-disciplinary curriculum and online resource to complement “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts,” the recent HBO Documentary Film directed by Spike Lee, about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath in New Orleans.

The Rockefeller Foundation grant will make available to teachers, schools, libraries and community groups nationwide free copies of the DVD and curriculum in late summer 2007. The curriculum package, called: “Teaching The Levees: A Curriculum of Civic Engagement to Accompany the HBO Documentary Film Event, Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts,” will be published and distributed by Teachers College Press.

Lee’s film, which aired on HBO in August 2006, records the painful experiences, aftermath, and voices of hope and despair of those who lived and continue to live through the tragedy of Katrina. It documents the failure of public officials and organizations to provide victims of the storm—and the subsequent breach of the levees—with remedies for their plight. The curriculum created at TC will be designed to help educators and community leaders encourage democratic dialogues about race and class in America through a public education campaign based on the film.

“When President Clinton launched his Panel on Race, he said that ‘It’s very hard to pierce through the public consciousness and to do a sustained public education campaign in the absence of some great conflict,’” says Margaret Crocco, Professor of Social Studies and Education at TC and leader of the project. “Hurricane Katrina may just have been that great conflict, because in spite of the pain and devastation it created, it has opened the door for discussion about the kind of country we are and the kind of country we want to be. The images and voices in Lee’s film, some from news coverage of the hurricane, may be hard to reconcile with many Americans’ ideas of their nation.”

“The Hurricane Katrina experience provides a teachable moment to examine our expectations of each other as citizens. We believe that Teachers College has the expertise and experience to translate Spike Lee’s masterful film into a curriculum for students to explore issues of race, class, poverty and democracy in America,” says Darren Walker, Vice President, Foundation Initiatives, at the Rockefeller Foundation.

The curriculum developed by Crocco and colleagues will address topics such as “What is the role of government in preventing and responding to a Katrina-like tragedy? Who is responsible? Who is in charge? Who decides?” and revisits a question from the 1960s Kerner Commission on race: “Are there two Americas?”

TC’s EdLab, part of The Gottesman Libraries, is designing and will host the Web site, “Teaching The Levees” at, which will provide information about the unfolding of the “Levees” curriculum project, resources for educators, and detailed information about how to request a copy of the curri previous page