Blank gif
Section1
An Educator's Guide to Technology and the Web
Search Internet@Schools
Subscribe Today!

View Current Issue
View Past Issues

Internet @ Schools

When the Levees Broke /Teaching "The Levees"

By Alice Kurtz - Posted Jul 1, 2007
Bookmark and Share

REPORT CARD
Overall Rating:5 Stars
Installation:A
Content/Features:A
Ease of Use:A
Product Support:A

Company: A collaboration of The Rockefeller Foundation, Teachers College/Columbia University, and HBO Documentary Films. Internet: www.teachingthelevees.com.

Audience: High school—adult.

Format: A two-DVD documentary film and a companion multidisciplinary curriculum guide.

Price: Available at no cost by requesting a copy at www.teachingthelevees.com.

Description: Teaching The Levees: A Curriculum for Democratic Dialogue and Civic Engagement and Spike Lee’s HBO documentary, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, help students explore race, class, and the governmental responses to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

Reviewer Comments:

Installation/Access: The DVD can be played using a DVD player with a computer or television. Installation/Access Rating: A

Content/Features: The Teaching The Levees package includes the full-length documentary When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts and a curriculum guide developed by faculty and students at Columbia University’s Teachers College. The 4-hour documentary presents the varied experiences of multicultural New Orleans with the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the failures of all levels of government to respond adequately to the crisis.

The award-winning documentary illustrates how New Orleans’ culture has enabled the city to survive throughout its history. Using powerful interviews with more than 100 people of diverse backgrounds, Spike Lee tells the story of the Hurricane Katrina disaster as well as the problems that preceded the devastating storm—in the areas of education, economics, and infrastructure. It also examines the problems of the wetlands, an insufficient levee system, and federal, state, and local neglect.

To guide viewers through this maze of miseries, a curriculum guide was developed to help students “understand the dimensions of government and identify communal and personal responsibilities when faced with a disaster; to develop a sense of empathy for the victims of Katrina; to recognize that all Americans are vulnerable to disasters of one kind or another; to develop skills of democratic dialogue and articulate judgments based on evidence; and to use their new knowledge to get involved in their communities to improve the common good.”

The curriculum guide is divided into five components geared for high school, college, and adult
audiences such as civic, community, or religious groups. The components include units on media literacy, civics, economics, geography, and history.

The media literacy lessons feature topics such as Frames (an exploration of how news materials
are created and presented to the public and the way we look at frames of information and create meaning), People of the Press (an examination of investigative reporting and interviews), The Power of Images (an opportunity to examine photography’s role in reporting events), and more.

The high school units address civics, government, geography, and economics. In one of the history lessons, students have an opportunity to compare Hurricane Katrina with other historical disasters including the Johnstown (Pa.) Flood of 1889 and the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and their effects on poor segments of the population.

Another lesson examines the role of public leaders in a crisis situation. This lesson reflects on Abraham Lincoln during the U.S. Civil War, John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Martin Luther King Jr. during the Birmingham Bus Boycott. These examples are then overlaid with a look at the leaders at the local, state, and federal levels during Katrina.

The college curriculum is titled New Orleans: Past, Present and Future. These lessons examine New Orleans’ contributions to America’s cultural vocabulary, the idea of “two Americas,” a gulf between rich and poor, the African-American community, and the question, “Should New Orleans be rebuilt as a ‘Chocolate City’?” The curriculum also examines the various contributions to American culture made by citizens of New Orleans.

The segments geared to adult discussions—Race, Class, and Katrina—guide the facilitation of dialogues among participants to help them examine their personal assumptions and to formulate a view of American society.

The curriculum guide also includes two timelines of Hurricane Katrina. One is the hurricane in a historical context from 1993 to 2007; the other is a day-by-day timeline of events. An extensive, explicit viewing guide includes a myriad of questions by chapter, a list of characters in the production, and an in-depth essay giving an overview of the history of New Orleans.

The lessons in the guide can be incorporated into the existing curriculum; they meet national curricular standards and offer key concepts and suggested materials to enrich, modify, or otherwise adapt the lessons as needed. The lessons address essential issues and also provide a “Take Action” section that offers opportunities for students to get involved in their communities.

The final section of the curriculum guide features options for summative activities. These include individual and group activities that engage students in the synthesis, analysis, and evaluation of their newly acquired knowledge.

The material in the guide also includes essays, photos, maps, charts, and Web sites for additional information.ved in their communities.

The final section of the curriculum guide features options for summative activities. These include individual and group activities that engage students in the synthesis, analysis, and evaluation of their newly acquired knowledge.

The material in the guide also includes essays, photos, maps, charts, and Web sites for additional information. Content/Features Rating: A

Ease of Use: The curriculum guide is extremely thorough and makes using the video easier, especially if the educator is not planning to show all 4 hours of the film. There is quite a bit to read and assess; the use of this material would require some fairly extensive preplanning by the instructor.

The lessons are extremely well formatted. They begin with an essential question, followed by an introduction, a list of relevant segments of the film, materials used in the lesson (Web sites, student handouts, maps, and charts), the body of the lesson with questions, a closure segment, and a “Take Action” segment to enrich or extend the lesson. The high school lessons include key concepts addressed in the lesson and related curriculum standards. Talking points for teachers are provided. References and additional resources are located at appropriate sections of the lesson. Ease of Use Rating: A

Product Support: This is a straightforward DVD product; product support should not be required. Teachers College Press, the publisher of the materials, can be contacted at (212) 678-3919. Product Support Rating: A

Recommendation: Teaching The Levees: A Curriculum for Democratic Dialogue and Civic Engagement and Spike Lee’s HBO documentary, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, give the high school or college teacher—or a group facilitator of an adult learning community—a rare opportunity to initiate discussions and create learning situations to examine the difficult issues of race, responsibility, and resources that face Americans—now and potentially in the future.

The materials provide a variety of options for study, discussion, evaluation, and community service, as well as personal action. The lessons are quite extensive; the authors suggest that they be modified or adapted for use. These are not materials that can be perused and presented quickly. The film is powerful, and users should follow the recommendation that it is not appropriate for students under 14 years of age.

The high school sections offer various avenues to use the materials in the already-defined curriculum. History, geography, civics, and economics are the logical fits, but environmental studies would be enhanced by this curriculum too. At the time of this review, plans were underway for the creation of digital resources to accompany the materials.

The opportunity to acquire and use these materials should not be passed up. Highly recommended.

Reviewer: Alice Kurtz, 5/6 grade teacher, Irving B. Weber School, Iowa City, IA.


 
Blank gif