Using Katrina in education

BY JORDAN FRIES | MARCH 05, 2010 7:30 AM

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Gritty images splashed across the overhead projector in a University Capitol Centre seminar room late Thursday afternoon.

Roughly 50 attendees — mostly local educators — gazed at New Orleans homes with shattered windows and front lawns littered with garbage, likely abandoned forever.

Margaret Crocco, a social-studies professor at Columbia University, took the pictures almost two years after Hurricane Katrina swept through the Big Easy in August 2005 and left the city devastated.

And Thursday, she hoped to bring her educational program Teaching The Levees to a wider audience during a two-hour presentation to members of the Iowa City community.

Crocco, who spearheaded the project in 2007, traced the history and motivations behind the nationally acclaimed teaching curriculum, inspired by the 2006 HBO documentary When the Levees Broke, directed by Spike Lee.

“This tool is important not only for educating students on what happened in 2005, but also to enhance their understanding of democracy and engagement with the community,” Crocco said.

Her intent with the program is to tackle the “hard issues” via student-led discourse, she said.

The lesson plan provides a series of questions for students to provoke discussions about ethnicity and social status in natural disasters.

“We want the program to be relevant to young people, and we want them to have increased interest politically afterwards,” Crocco said. “Students need to know they can still promote meaningful change, not just to pad a résumé.”

Some UI educators in attendance have begun adapting the values of Teaching The Levees to their classroom lessons.

Kari Thompson, a graduate teaching assistant in religious studies, said the project addresses her concern about students “not remembering.”

“Students in my class have a short memory when it comes to these kinds of events,” Thompson said. “We don’t want things like Katrina and 9/11 to fade from their minds.”

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