Additional Curriculum Materials
This section includes lessons developed for “Teaching The Levees,” but not included in the book itself. They can be used separately, or in conjunction with the published curriculum (available for download above).
Numerous reports have documented that Katrina had a disproportionately large impact on the poor and unemployed, particularly African Americans. The larger question is whether that impact was primarily accidental or the direct result of policy choices that disregarded the welfare of the poor and minorities. In this lesson, students will attempt to quantify the effects of Katrina on different socioeconomic groups and neighborhoods and explore possible explanations for why these groups and neighborhoods bore the brunt of destruction. The lesson will conclude with a general discussion of the concept of “environmental racism” and analysis of whether or not this idea can legitimately be applied to Katrina.
In the 20th century, the role of the U.S. government in providing safety nets for its citizens increased dramatically, with the introduction of Social Security, welfare, Medicare, and other programs. The role of government responsibility in caring for citizens in the wake of natural disasters has increased substantially from a time when it was considered primarily the task of private relief agencies. To what extent is the government obligated to provide immediate and comprehensive relief in these situations? Do government programs place too much reliance on individual preparedness? Or, conversely, do citizens expect too much of their government in times of crisis?
In a city teeming with rich subcultures, perhaps none is more mysterious, yet more emblematic of the city’s unique history, than the so-called Mardi Gras Indians. In reality, the “Mardi Gras Indians” are not Indians at all, but African American residents of the city who don elaborate, magnificently beaded, hand-made costumes and masquerade as Native Americans during the annual Mardi Gras celebration.
In When the Levees Broke, viewers catch only a brief glimpse of the Mardi Gras Indians. In this lesson, students will endeavor to understand this small but important subculture of New Orleans and assess its prospects for survival in the aftermath of Katrina.
As the extent of the flood’s social, economic and political devastation began to be evident in early autumn 2005, strong opinion pieces appeared in publications throughout the country. New Oreleans’ home paper, the Times-Picayune, using its NOLA.com Web site to keep publishing after its premises were flooded, addressed an open letter to President Bush on behalf of the Crescent City’s abandoned citizens. Editoral writers and cartoonists elsewhere amplified the theme; talk show hosts and TV comedians vied to ridicule feckless politicians; scathing Katrina comics debuted online. Kanye West’s spontaneous televised remark—”George Bush doesn’t care about Black People”—provoked a torrent of critical and creative response. Meanwhile New Orleanians still stuck in their drowning city painted anti-FEMA graffiti on sodden walls. Did this second flood—of words, not water—help or hinder? What is the difference between reporting the story and commenting on it?
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The 23 year-old weather blogger who predicted the devastating effect of Hurricane Katrina three days before New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin ordered the city evacuated—and before most Big Media reporters arrived on the scene—is the first person interviewed in When the Levees Broke. Brendan Loy’s prophetic words reached many thousands of Internet readers through a link provided by law professor Glenn Reynolds, who blogs at Instapundit.com. Together Loy, in Indiana, and Reynolds, in Tennessee, performed a public service for residents of the Gulf Coast, using a young news medium still derided in professional circles as the realm of journalism wannabes. Citizen journalism—or citizen media, as it is called by practitioners sensitive to such criticism—is a growing phenomenon worldwide. By augmenting, and sometimes challenging, the information professional reporters put in the story frame, do citizen journalists improve the functioning of the free press that is essential to a democratic society? Spike Lee reminds us that the Katrina narrative—already entering history shaped by myriad citizen writers, photographers and filmmakers—is a test case.