Getting Back to Abnormal

PBS Premiere: July 14, 2014Check the broadcast schedule »

Lesson Plan: Race and Class

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In this lesson, students will practice listening, research and discussion skills as they analyze
American race relations and issues of political representation.

Video clips provided with this lesson are from the film Getting Back to Abnormal.

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By the end of this lesson, students will:

  • discuss race and class in the United States, through the lens of post-Katrina New
  • use an example from a New Orleans election to examine racial representation in U.S.
    politics and government and how minorities make their voices heard in the current
    political system
  • understand how, in a city like New Orleans, historical race relations influence current




Multicultural Education
English/Language Arts
Civics/U.S. History



One 50-minute class period


Clip 1: New Orleans (Length 3:16)
The clip begins at 2:07 with a quote by Alexis de Tocqueville and ends at 5:23 with an
interviewee saying, "I love history. I study history."

Clip 2: Election Time (Length 14:11)
The clip begins at 28:30 with Barbara Lacen-Keller going door-to-door to solicit voters. This
clip also includes Mitch Landrieu discussing problems in New Orleans; footage of celebration
of the 50th anniversary of school desegregation in the city; and commentary from WBOK
Radio hosts. It ends with Stacy Head going door-to-door. View the clip in whole or in parts.


1. Create a KWL chart examining what students Know, Want to Know and ultimately Learn
about the history of race and politics in New Orleans. Ask students to identify what they
already know about racial representation in U.S. politics and government and write their
answers in the "K" column of the chart paper. Ask students what they want to learn about how
historical race relations influence current politics in the United States and place these answers
in the "W" column of the chart. (5 minutes)

KnowWant to KnowLearn
1. What do you know?1. What do you want to learn?1. What did you learn?
2. What are your sources of information?

a. How do you know what you know?

2. Where can you find
credible answers?
2. What were the most valuable sources?


2. Divide students into groups of 3 or 4 members. Assign each group a section from or orleans. Ask students to identify two key historical moments from the assigned reading and to share their selections with the class. Ask them to predict how these historical moments might affect current electoral politics in New Orleans. (10 minutes)

3. Show Clip 1. Invite students to share their reactions to the clip. Ask students to describe their impressions of New Orleans and how cultural diversity influences political representation. What are the "abnormal" facets of New Orleans that make it a unique American city? How do race and class intersect in New Orleans? How is this similar or dissimilar to the students' own experiences? How does the city's past affect everyday life? How does this compare to what happens in other major cities in the United States? How might a city's cultural and political past affect current residents? (10 minutes)

4. Show Clip 2 (In whole or in parts). Ask students to identify some of the issues affecting the political debate in New Orleans. Invite students to examine the cultural climate of the city and encourage them to explore the perspectives of each character.

Ask the following discussion questions:

  • Barbara Lacen-Keller: How does Barbara Lacen-Keller's advocacy for Stacy Head impact the campaign and the community's perception of her candidacy?
  • Mitch Landrieu: What would you ask Mitch Landrieu about the future of the city? How do you think he might answer?
  • WBOK: What do the WBOK hosts and listeners think about the upcoming election? Whom do they support and why do they seem to be leaning in this direction?
  • Stacy Head: How does Stacy Head solicit voters? Do you think this is an effective approach?

Ask students to predict the outcome of the election. Explore the following questions:

  • Regardless of race, how can a political official represent the interests of a community as diverse as that of New Orleans?
  • How can future candidates transcend racial boundaries?
  • Should elected officials be required to acknowledge the impact that race and economic class have and have had historically on their constituents? What are the challenges and benefits that come with such a requirement? (15 to 20 minutes)

5. Ask students to summarize what they learned about race and representation and to analyze the lessons offered by post-Katrina electoral politics that might be valuable for all Americans to learn. List student responses under the L section of the KWL chart (see step 1). (5 minutes)


1. Invite students to explore the politics of their own Congressional district(s). Ask students to identify the district or districts where they live and their own elected officials. Ask students to write one-page comparative essays that contrast what they saw in the film with what they discover about their district(s).

2. Watch Getting Back to Abnormal in its entirety. Ask students to assess the spectrum of personalities in the film. Invite students to examine the pros and cons of the outcome of the election. What do they think would be the best way to handle things moving forward?

3. Invite students to create a presentation (using software such as PowerPoint) that examines the complexity of New Orleans culture and the sociopolitical climate. Ask students to explore changes in the ethnic makeup of the city and to investigate how various cultures combine to create the city's unique character.


Getting Back to Abnormal
The official website for the film includes a photo gallery and information about the filmmakers.

The POV site for the film includes a more comprehensive discussion guide with additional discussion prompts and activity suggestions. Geography of New Orleans
The geography of New Orleans has played and continues to play an important role in the city's history. Learn more about the Louisiana landscape and the significance of the city's location in bayou country.

Center for New American Media: "Documenting New Orleans on Film and Putting Getting Back to Abnormal in Context"
Filmmaker Paul Stekler discusses New Orleans documentaries in this article. "Gentrification and its Discontents: Notes from New Orleans"
Richard Campanella discusses demographic changes in New Orleans.

NPR: "Post-Katrina New Orleans: A Story of Modern Pioneering"
In August 2013, Debbie Elliott presented this brief commentary about the new New Orleans. A transcript of the story is available, as well as an mp3 for downloading.

The Times-Picayune: "Hurricane Katrina Eight Years Later, a Statistical Snapshot of the New Orleans Area"
In this August 28, 2013 article, Mark Waller examines post-Katrina New Orleans with statistical data provided by the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center (now known as The Data Center).


Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects

  • SL.9-10.1, 11-12.1Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade level topics, texts and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
  • SL. 9-10.2 Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source.
  • SL. 11-12.2 Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) in order to make informed decisions and solve problems, evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source and noting any discrepancies among the data.
  • SL. 9-10.3 Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning and use of evidence and rhetoric, identifying any fallacious reasoning or exaggerated or distorted evidence.
  • SL.11-12.3 Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning and use of evidence and rhetoric, assessing the stance, premises, links among ideas, word choice, points of emphasis and tone used.
  • L. 9-10.3, L. 11-12.3 Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.
  • R.I. 9-10.7 Analyze various accounts of a subject told in different mediums (e.g., a person's life story in both print and multimedia), determining which details are emphasized in each account.
  • R.I. 11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.

McREL a compilation of content standards and benchmarks for K-12 curriculum by McREL (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning)

  • Civics, Standard 1: Understands ideas about civic life, politics and government.
  • Civics, Standard 25: Understands issues regarding personal, political and economic rights.
  • Civics, Standard 28: Understands how participation in civic and political life can help citizens attain individual and public goals.
  • Language Arts, Standard 9: Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media.
  • Thinking and Reasoning, Standard 3: Effectively uses mental processes that are based on identifying similarities and differences.
  • Historical Understanding, Standard 1: Understands and knows how to analyze chronological relationships and patterns.
  • United States History, Standard 31: Understands economic, social and cultural
    developments in the contemporary United States.


Stephanie Joy Tisdale is an educator and the associate editor of The Liberator Magazine. She has spent the last 10 years teaching elementary, middle and high school students. She now works as a curriculum writer and consultant.