About the Project

Advisory Board

Eva Semien Baham, historian at Southern University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Jane Bolgatz, social studies professor and author of Talking Race in the Classroom, Fordham University

Douglas Brinkley, author of The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. At the time of the storm, Brinkley was a historian at Tulane University.

Milton Chen, is a leading figure in educational media and executive director of the George Lucas Educational Foundation

Emily Clark, historian and expert on the history of New Orleans, Tulane University

Sylvia Frey, African American history expert and member of the UNESCO taskforce on the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, Tulane University

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., The Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the WEB DuBois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University

Barry Guillot, Destrehan, Louisiana science teacher and author of web-published materials on erosion of the wetlands in Gulf Coast region

Diana Hess, social studies professor and expert on teaching controversial issues and democratic dialogues, University of Wisconsin

Gloria Ladson-Billings, education professor with expertise on teaching about race and past president of the American Educational Research Association, University of Wisconsin

Victoria J. Marsick, is a leading researcher in the field of adult
education. She is Professor of Education and Co-Director of the J.M.
Huber Institute at Teacher’s College, Columbia University.

Brenda Square, Director of Archives and Library at the Amistad Research Center, Tulane University

Gregory A. Thomas, the Deputy Director of Planning and Response in the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and author of Freedom from Fear

Talking about race and class in America has never been easy. The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina provides an opportunity to renew the American conversation on this subject—a challenging agenda for our society today. “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,” President Clinton observed when launching his Panel on Race. Hurricane Katrina pierced public consciousness in ways that, however painful and disturbing, provide an opening for dialogues central to democratic citizenship. This curriculum, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and created by educators from Teachers College, Columbia University, takes the HBO Documentary Film Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke, as both impetus, touchstone and text for democratic dialogues in schools, colleges, and community organizations. 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. These voices and images compel us to ask: “What kind of country are we? What kind of country do we want to be?”

The national experience of Hurricane Katrina was, like that of September 11th, a visceral one. Round-the-clock news coverage kept an unbelieving American public tied to television sets. All that we have learned about this tragedy since it occurred has confirmed what many Americans concluded after watching live coverage of the storm: the meteorological event, however terrible, was not the heart of the story. TV viewers in the US (and elsewhere) saw the inability of US public officials and organizations to recognize and take responsibility for an impending disaster; revelations of previously ignored American calamities; and an unconscionable failure to provide victims of the storm’s fury with real remedies for their plight.

Coming to terms with the panoply of reasons for this failure will easily take a generation. What can be done now, however, is to seize the opportunity afforded by Lee’s film to encourage teachers, professors, and community leaders to use this celebrated artist’s work as a platform to initiate conversations and creative projects about difficult issues. Focused on the situation of individuals who, by dint of race and class, found themselves most vulnerable to the storm’s wrath, and to the failure of local, state and federal governments to protect them from the disaster’s worst effects, When the Levees Broke tells a story that is at risk of fading from public consciousness. Over the last year, the spin doctors have been at work to exonerate those in high office, even sometimes blaming those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, who suffered most. A curriculum based on Lee’s film will remind Americans that the lessons to be taken from Katrina must be based on analysis of the facts and must include the voices of innocent victims.

Teachers College
Teachers College, Columbia University, draws on the expertise of faculty from its academic programs in social studies education, history, and adult learning for the content of this curriculum. Teachers College Press is producing and marketing the curriculum package. The EdLab at Teachers College is creating digital resources to be used by educators, students, community leaders, social activists, and others. This will include media content, supplementary materials, venues for community sharing, and online professional development.

In thanking those who have made this project possible, first and foremost we wish to thank the Rockefeller Foundation, in particular, Judith Rodin, Darren Walker, and Joan Shigekawa, for their financial and intellectual support of this project. We thank HBO for making the documentary possible, in particular, Jackie Glover, Sandra Scott, and Francine LaMarr. We are grateful to the President of Teachers College, Columbia University, Susan H. Fuhrman, for her inspiration and ongoing support. We thank our partners at Teachers College Press, especially, Carole Saltz, Leyli Shayegan, and Peter Sieger, and the terrific crew at the EdLab of Gottesman Libraries: Gary Natriello, Anthony Cocciolo, Hui Soo Chae, and Brian Hughes. A big debt of gratitude goes to Kathleen Morin for her exhaustive work in reviewing the curriculum and offering helpful suggestions for improvement, not all of which we were able to implement due to time and other constraints. I would also like to thank Craig Truglia, my research assistant, who helped with the Viewing Guide, timelines, and a host of other tasks.

Two individuals were most important to the successful conclusion of this project: Maureen Grolnick and Emma Taati. Without them, none of this would have been possible. Their contributions are too legion to enumerate here but they are spectacular workers and wonderful human beings.

The Authors
Lucia Alcántara is an educational consultant specializing in organizational capacity building and development. She is a Doctoral Candidate in Adult Learning and Leadership in the Organization and Leadership Department at Teachers College, Columbia University.

James E. Alford, Jr. is a doctoral student in the History and Education Program at Teachers College, Columbia University. He has worked with high school students in Upward Bound Programs at Dillard University and Columbia University.

David Boxer is Director of Instructional Technology and Research at the Windward School in Los Angeles. He has led new media workshops for teachers throughout the United States and created a course at Windward on comics and graphic novels.

Jeanne Bitterman is a lecturer in the Adult Learning and Leadership Program at Teachers College, Columbia University. She has worked as a teacher in alternative education in the New York City Department of Education for over twenty years and teaches courses in facilitating adult learning, critical literacy learning communities, and qualitative research methodologies.

Judith Cramer is the Educational Technology Specialist at Teachers College, Columbia University. She has taught high school English, journalism and computing in New York City, and served as adviser to an award winning school newspaper at the United Nations International School in New York City.

Thomas Chandler is an Instructor at the Center for Educational Outreach and Innovation at Teachers College and a former social studies teacher. He is a doctoral candidate within the Program in Social Studies at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Margaret Smith Crocco is Professor of Social Studies and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. She spent eight years teaching high school history and government in New Jersey, and has taught history, American Studies and Women’s Studies at colleges in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Texas.

William Gaudelli is Associate Professor of Social Studies and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University who conducts research in global education. He previously taught high school social studies in New Jersey for a decade and social studies education at a college in Florida.

Ellen Livingston taught high school on Long Island, New York for seven years. She is an Ed.M. student in the Program in Social Studies at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Anand R. Marri taught high school social studies in San Jose, California for four years. He is now Assistant Professor of Social Studies and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, where he researches and teaches about the intersection of civic and multicultural education.

Christina Morado is a secondary social studies teacher who has been teaching in New York City for the past seven years. She currently works at East Bronx Academy, a technology-focused middle and high school that opened in 2004.

Duane Neil is Chair of the Art Department at The Chapin School in New York City. He has taught media education for nearly twenty years and art for more than thirty years. Neil is a frequent workshop leader at conferences on media literacy.

Addie M. Rimmer is a doctoral student in the Adult Learning and Leadership program at Teachers College, Columbia University. She has taught journalism for fifteen years in New York, Arizona, California, and Nevada.

Yom Odamtten earned a B.A. in Multicultural Studies from Scripps College (CA) and an M.A. in Social Studies from Teachers College, Columbia University. She currently teaches African American Literature, United States and World History at a high school in Connecticut.

Sharon Pierson is a Ph.D. student in the History and Education Program at Teachers College, Columbia University. She is also an Adjunct Professor at Ramapo College in New Jersey, and has written history curricula for elementary education.

Cally L. Waite is Associate Professor of History and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. She previously taught history in high school and was recognized as one of the teachers of the year in California.

Christopher Zublionis has taught middle school for four years in Syosset, New York. He is a doctoral student in the Program in Social Studies at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Story of the Levees



Teaching the Levees is a collaboration of Teachers College, Columbia University, The Rockefeller Foundation, HBO Documentary Films, Teachers College Press, and the EdLab