I explain that the causes of the financial crises are well publicized and relatively easy to find in the media. What is difficult for us to see is how we have leveraged ourselves as much as each of the afore mentioned states. Our naivety, our entitlement, our ignorance, our greed... it has worked to give us some of the largest municipal bankruptcies... with the crown jewel being Detroit. It wasn't fully the bankers to blame; we all expected too much, took questionable money to buy things we did not need, and believed we were all entitled to it.
I like that the kids are able to see that each culture has striking similarities to our own. It leaves us with some serious questions to ask ourselves going forward. Specifically, what do we expect from our government? What is best for the majority? Or what is best for our pocket book? Are these two 'bests' identical? If not, which 'best' is better in the long run?
Kat and I took different routes to help our students. I had a moderated debate centered on asking if democracy and capitalism are compatible. Kat asked her students to visually process the lessons of each chapter. I will try Kat's cartoons next year; many of her kids remarked that the chapters did not make much sense to them until they drew them. All classes had to take this information and use it to write a DBQ asking if democracy and capitalism can co-exist.
What we found is that our kids are generally believe that neither can exist in their purest forms, but can be adapted to maintain the best of both. It requires a vigilant majority, who are mindful of what industry is doing and how those actions can adversely impact democracy. But a hyper-vigilant majority can cut into the rights of the minority, and that does include the rights of industry to make a profit. Even more interesting was watching kids address American cultural problems, to which they largely had no response.
I really like this video to sum up what majorities should be in charge of in a democracy... it is a fascinating cap to the discussion.
What did we learn?
1. Timing: We ran this unit in the beginning of the year. Our kids had exactly two units of study to prepare them: Intro to government and Comparative Government. This made for some really nervous students who expressed frustration when they did not understand economic concepts. We assured them over and over again that details of economic theory are not important; we were analyzing government actions and the resulting impact on democracy.
Would we do this unit again at this time? Probably. I have run it later in the year (in April) and have found that very few of my students committed to reading. I had kids who did not read this time in September and October, but the predominant majority of them did.
Additionally, there are so many concepts that we have cycled back around to in our discussions since then, and many of students have referenced present German problems. Interesting to note, conversations had in class since the conclusion of the unit have confirmed what I had hoped for all along: the kids are interested. They may not understand all the complex actions of a central bank, but they are paying attention and know enough about what went wrong to have an opinion about what to do in the latest round of market fluctuations. We have talked about stories centered on auditing the Federal Reserve with similar levels of curiosity from the students that I know would not be there without.
Kat summed it up quite nicely:
"Just before the unit, I asked students to brainstorm issues they were interested in having the government address. Reading this book (and contemplating the possibility of entire nations going bankrupt) made the possibility of never having funding for [students' present and future] interests a likely scenario. When [students] understand what roles government plays in their daily life, they begin to see what a threat the financial crisis may have brought to their doorstep."
2. Workload: Lecturing and discussions and grading of quizzes is a big undertaking. Kat and I are split on how to handle this next year. I like the idea of condensing some of the quizzes in the future to leave more time for Q&A with the students. Kat points out that the best way to keep kids accountable is through daily quizzes.
3.Facilitating Understanding: Kat and I continued to adapt our unit after each and every class. We would realize that there were things missing that would help prompt students, and create those things as necessary. For instance, a consistent problem for students was answering questions and providing supporting details from the text that had actual pages cited. We made guided reading/note pages to help kids focus on important stuff, as well as track questions for clarification later. We added more external resources to help frame our discussion. Things like sociological discussion of what drives Americans to cheat. This really made inroads with our students... cheating is something that is constantly discussed at the high school level. Who knew that cheating evolves in the adult world, too.