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The Fall of Flint

Do We Have a Right to Clean Water ?

Secondary

Description

In this photo essay, photographer Matt Black portrays the town of Flint and its residents as they persevere through the water crisis. A water crisis has severely impacted the residents since 2014. In this lesson, students view photos documenting the Flint, Michigan, water crisis and explore the themes of environmental justice and the consequences of corruption. These photographs are part of Black's commitment to documenting poverty across the United States.

 

General Assessment

What skills does this resource explicitly teach?

The lesson plan is intended to help students develop those skills necessary to become critical viewers - to "read" photos  and to articulate their understanding of what they are seeing.

Strengths

The lesson plan is somewhat unique in that there are few resources that use art or more particularly photos to explore issues of sustainable development.

Recommendation of how and where to use it

The Story of Flint might be used by

  • teachers of Media Arts to explore the topic of photo essays
  • by Social Studies/Economics teacher to investigate the reasons for and the effects of the decay of the traditional industrial heartland of America
  • by Environmental Science teachers to examine the topic of environmental injustice and/or environmental racism.
  • by Health Education teachers exploring issues related to healthy communities.

Relevant Curriculum Units

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  • Alberta
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    • Grade 9
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      • Environmental Science
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        • Environment and Outdoor Education: Environmental Investigations
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        • The Power of the Artifact: Appreciation
        • Art 11
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      • Social Studies
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        • Explorations in Social Studies 11: Social justice initiatives can transform individuals and systems
    • Grade 12
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      • Environmental Science
        • Step 4Relevant matches
        • Environmental Science 12: Human actions affect the quality of water and its ability to sustain life.
      • Social Studies
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        • Human Geography 12: Human activities alter landscapes in a variety of ways.
        • Political Studies: Decision making in a democratic system of government is influenced by the distribution of political and social power.
        • Social Justice: The causes of social injustice are complex and have lasting impacts on society
        • Urban Studies 12: Urban planning decisions and other government policies can dramatically affect the overall quality of life in cities
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        • Citizenship and Sustainability: Area of Inquiry: Social Justice and Human Rights
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        • Visual Arts: Perceiving, Reflecting, and Responding
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        • Introduction to Environmental Science 120: Investigating Environmental Issues
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        • Visual Art 1202: Perceiving, Reflecting, and Responding
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        • Environmental Science 3205: Water Use & the Environment
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        • Visual Arts 401A: Perceiving, Reflecting, and Responding
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        • Environmental Science 621A: Environmental Challenges and Successes
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    • Grade 11
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      • Social Studies
        • Step 4Relevant matches
        • Explorations in Social Studies 11: Social justice initiatives can transform individuals and systems
    • Grade 12
      • Step 3Select a subject
      • Environmental Science
        • Step 4Relevant matches
        • Environmental Science 12: Human actions affect the quality of water and its ability to sustain life.
      • Social Studies
        • Step 4Relevant matches
        • Human Geography 12: Human activities alter landscapes in a variety of ways.
        • Political Studies: Decision making in a democratic system of government is influenced by the distribution of political and social power.
        • Social Justice: The causes of social injustice are complex and have lasting impacts on society
        • Urban Studies 12: Urban planning decisions and other government policies can dramatically affect the overall quality of life in cities

Themes Addressed

  • Human Health & Environment (2)

    • Environmental Contaminants & Health Hazards
    • Environmental Justice
  • Human Rights (2)

    • Poverty
    • Social Justice
  • Water (1)

    • Water Quality

Sustainability Education Principles

Principle Rating Explanation
Consideration of Alternative Perspectives Good

The lesson plan seeks to chronicle what studies have described as an example of environmental justice. Photographs are used to capture the consequences of that injustice. The opportunities to explore different perspectives comes with students discussing their reactions to the photographs.

Consideration of Alternative Perspectives:
  • Satisfactory: absence of bias towards any one point of view
  • Good: students consider different points of view regarding issues, problems discussed
  • Very good: based on the consideration of different views, students form opinions and  take an informed position
Multiple Dimensions of Problems & Solutions Very Good

The right to clean water is both an environmental and social issue. The United Nations has described it as a fundamental right. The loss of clean water to the citizens of Flint appears to have been the result of a political decision made to reduce costs by changing the source of water for Flint residents from Lake Huron to the Flint River. All of this however must be viewed with the context of the closing of the GM plants in Flint and the resulting economic fallout.

Multiple Dimensions of Problems & Solutions:

Effectively addresses the environmental, economic and social dimensions of the issue(s) being explored.

  • Satisfactory: resource supports the examination of  these dimensions
  • Good:  resource explicitly examines the interplay of these dimensions
  • Very Good:  a systems-thinking approach is encouraged to examine these three dimensions
Respects Complexity Good

The issue is complex - globalization, loss of a key employer (GM), unemployment and poverty, health, loss of municipal tax base, race - and teachers may chose to examine these as an extension of the lesson plan. The photographs, which are central piece in the lesson plan raises these issues but a serious examination of these would require additional lessons and resources.

Respects Complexity:

The complexity of the problems/issues being discussed is respected.

Acting on Learning Satisfactory

Students are not able to affect the crisis faced by Flint, but the lesson does ask them to think in general terms about what action is available to citizens in these situations. More specifically, students are asked to select one of the problems identified in the NPR timeline of the crisis and to propose a potential solution-based response that could protect Flint residents.

Acting on Learning:

Learning moves from understanding  issues  to working towards positive change — in personal lifestyle, in school, in the community,  or for the planet

  • Satisfactory: action opportunities are included as extensions 
  • Good: action opportunities are core components of the resource
  • Very Good: action opportunities for students are well supported and intended to result in observable, positive change
Values Education Very Good

The photographs encourage students to think about environmental racism, economic and social inequities, and individual and government responsibilities

Values Education:

Students are explicitly provided with opportunities to identify, clarify and express their own beliefs/values.

Empathy & Respect for Humans Very Good

Many of the photographs depict the human suffering associated with the collapse of Flint following the GM closure, particularly as it affects the  black population. The collection of images reminds us that photographs are often more powerful than government reports in documenting poverty.

Empathy & Respect for Humans: Empathy and respect are fostered for diverse groups of humans (including different genders, ethnic groups, sexual preferences, etc.).
Personal Affinity with Earth Good

The photographs depicting the natural and built landscape are very powerful and may be expected to elicit a visceral response among students.

Personal Affinity with Earth:

Encourages a personal affinity with -the natural world.  

  • Satisfactory: connection is made to the natural world
  • Good: fosters appreciation/concern for the natural world
  • Very Good: fosters stewardship though practical and respectful experiences out-of-doors 
Locally-Focused Learning Poor/Not considered

While the subject of the lesson plan is Flint, teachers may help students consider examples of other communities or groups that are suffering from local or regional downturns in their economy because of economic forces beyond their control. Examples might be found in the students communities.

Locally-Focused Learning:

Includes learning experiences that take advantage of issues/elements within the local community. 

  • Satisfactory: learning is made relevant to the lives of the learners
  • Good: learning is made relevant and has a local focus
  • Very Good: learning is made relevant, local and takes place ‘outside’ , in the community 
Past, Present & Future Good

Flint represents a case study of those communities that historically have enjoyed a degree of economic stability and predictability but whose continued well being was dependent on a key industry. Many of these communities are currently suffering because of a variety of economic forces - outsourcing of resources and jobs, globalization, technological innovation. The future for the people in these communities is uncertain and this feeds into the political currents of the day.

Past, Present & Future: Promotes an understanding of the past, a sense of the present, and a positive vision for the future.

Pedagogical Approaches

Principle Rating Explanation
Open-Ended Instruction Good

The photographs are intended to document the struggles of low income black communities in Flint from the photographers perspective. Students are asked to consider how individual photographs are "arranged" to evoke a particular response. Teachers may pursue this conversation by having students discuss how including or excluding certain photographs may also be used to shape the narrative.

In considering what "happened" in Flint, students have an opportunity to debate the decisions made by the players involved - the City government, GM, the health authorities, the state government.

Open-Ended Instruction :

Lessons are structured so that multiple/complex answers are possible; students are not steered toward one 'right' answer.

Integrated Learning Good

Faces of Flint has a number of layers. A media studies approach would have student explore the aesthetic merits of the photographs and the selective use of photos to promote a particular narrative. Approached from a social studies perspective, students might consider the economic forces that are being played out here and in similar industrial communities. This may lead to a consideration of the larger issue of sustainable development and the environmental and social factors at play. Others might see this as a case study in environmental racism.

Integrated Learning:

Learning brings together content and skills  from more than one  subject area

  • Satisfactory: content from a number of different  subject areas is readily identifiable
  • Good:  resource is appropriate for use in more than one subject area
  • Very Good:  the lines between subjects are blurred 
Inquiry Learning Good

Students are presented with a series of photographs and questions designed to help them "read" the photos.The responses are theirs and the exchange that follows allows students to share that response with others in the class.

Inquiry Learning:

Learning is directed by questions, problems, or challenges that students work to address.   

  • Satisfactory: Students are provided with questions/problems to solve and some direction on how to arrive at solutions.
  • Good: students, assisted by the teacher clarify the question(s) to ask and the process to follow to arrive at solutions.  Sometimes referred to as Guided Inquiry
  • Very Good:  students generate the questions and assume much of the responsibility for how to solve them.  . Sometimes referred to as self-directed learning.

 

Differentiated Instruction Good

The photos create a framework in which students are asked to look, to look again, to reflect, to share their reflections with others, and to listen to and learn from what others  have to say. 

The lesson also includes a number of reflective writing prompts that allow students to demonstrate their understanding of the story.

Differentiated Instruction:

Activities address a range of student learning styles, abilities and readiness.

  • Satisfactory:  includes a variety of instructional approaches
  • Good: addresses  the needs of visual, auditory &  kinesthetic learners
  • Very Good: also includes strategies for learners with difficulties
Experiential Learning Satisfactory

The photo essay is intended to simulate a "trip' to parts of the Flint community.

Experiential Learning:

Authentic learning experiences are provided

  • Satisfactory: learning takes place through ‘hands-on’ experience or simulation
  • Good: learning involves direct experience in a ‘real world context’
  • Very good: learning involves ‘real world experiences’ taking place’ beyond the school walls.
Cooperative Learning Satisfactory

Students view and respond to the photos collectively. The result is a sharing of views that allows students to hear what their classmates think about what they are seeing and thereby broaden their understanding.

Cooperative Learning:

Group and cooperative learning strategies are a priority.

  • Satisfactory:  students work in groups
  • Good: cooperative learning skills are explicitly taught and practiced
  • Very Good: cooperative learning skills are explicitly taught, practiced and assessed
Assessment & Evaluation Satisfactory

The Flint Story relies on formative evaluation to determine the student's level of engagement and understanding. Guided questions are intended to encourage student response to the issues raised. The quality of that response may be used by teachers to gauge student understanding.

Assessment & Evaluation: Tools are provided that help students and teachers to capture formative and summative information about students' learning and performance. These tools may include reflection questions, checklists, rubrics, etc.
Peer Teaching Good

Peer teaching emerges from the student exchange elicited by their response to the photographs.

Peer Teaching:

Provides opportunities for students to actively present their knowledge and skills to peers and/or act as teachers and mentors.

  • Satisfactory: incidental teaching that arises from cooperative learning, presentations, etc.
  • Good or Very Good: an opportunity is intentionally created to empower students to teach other students/community members. The audience is somehow reliant on the students' teaching (students are not simply ‘presenting')
Case Studies Good

The Flint Story is a case study of the deindustrialization that is the experience of many American cities and therefore part of the larger issue of technological change and globalization. 

Case Studies:

Relevant case studies are included.  Case studies are thorough descriptions of real events from real situations that students use to explore  concepts in an authentic context.

Locus of Control Satisfactory

The lesson plan sets out a structured conversation in which the teacher poses the questions and the students respond. The questions are, however, quite open and may take the class in a variety of directions.

Locus of Control: Meaningful opportunities are provided for students to choose elements of program content, the medium in which they wish to work, and/or to go deeper into a chosen issue.