Thursday, January 06, 2005

An unexpected lesson

Today in my U.S. History class we began discussing demobilization after World War I. I had a transparency of statistics on unemployment, casualties, cost of living, etc. that was supposed to help them infer the political, economic, and social changes the U.S. underwent. One statistic was the U.S. debt. My students were shocked to see that we owed millions of dollars at the conclusion of the war. "How could we?" they asked. "We paid it off right away, right? We don't still owe that much money do we?" Whoa. Time for a lesson on the national debt. So, while they were finding some things in the text, I found a national debt clock and wrote today's number on the board. (It's above 7 trillion, now, if you didn't know.) This, of course, began a new host of questions. I was more than willing to discuss them, because it was so great to see my students concerned about and interested in a current topic. They wanted to know why we couldn't just forgive the debt, or print more money, or some other solution they were sure no one had ever considered. More than one student suggested we start a world war in Europe and Asia, but stay out of it ourselves so that we could sell them weapons.

My fourth period class was so irate that we did not even get to finish the activity I had planned. I spent some time tonight looking up current information because my economics knowledge was a little rusty. I've printed some charts from the Bureau of Public Debt and Ed Hall (who admittedly has an agenda) to use tomorrow. Today I let them freak out and spent some time discussing the recent doomsday economists' theories that U.S. is close to financial collapse (I'd link to the article but I read it in the Baltimore Sun and they won't let you read it without giving them your email address, which I refuse to do). Tomorrow I'll point out the opposing sides' views that the national debt is nothing to be afraid of.

Then, I'll have to move on. There are standardized tests to prepare for, you know.