Ira Katznelson, professor of political science and history at Columbia University writes in response to what he describes as the “racial pattern of poverty” witnessed graphically during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: “A full generation of federal policy, lasting until the civil rights legislation and affirmative action of the 1960s, boosted whites into homes, suburbs, universities and skilled employement while denying the same or comparable benefits to black citizens.”( Washington Post October 3-9, 2005 Weekly Edition). He suggests that “we would do better in present circumstances to return to the ambitious plans Johnson announced but never realized to close massive gaps between black and whites, and between more and less prosperous blacks.”
Many educators suggest that one way to “close the achievement gap” is to critically discuss current events such as Hurricane Katrina in the classroom. The theory is that education content for marginalized students should include topics on “real world” social injustices in order to empower and prepare students to take on critical and activist roles in society. However, talking about these issues can create controversial and emotional responses between students and educators.
Considering these challenges, I ask: Do you think educators should bring Hurricane Katrina into the classroom even if it brings up feelings of discomfort and emotions that students and teachers might not be able to predict? Do you think there is a tendency to shy away from “real” dialogues in classrooms because the inequalities are so severe and because teachers and students rarely claim to share the same points of view? Do you think that there is a political tide that censors critical thinking in the classroom?
I am also curious about how we can make each other more comfortable discussing the “raw deal” that has historically affected our education system, our students, and our communities?
Adrienne Palacios, Human Resources Officer for the United Nations, says that these critical conversations should also take place in predominantly “white” schools and organizations because they are the ones who might be more affected by the media that distorts the role of black and poor people in society.
So, I ask, is there a difference between how we present Hurricane Katrina to a predominantly black or minoritized audience as compared to a predominantly white audience? Is there a difference if the students are wealthy or poor? What about the educator? Is the educators’ ability to address these issues affected by their own race or class?