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Making Civics Real Workshop 3: Public Policy & the Federal Budget  
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Workshop 3

Workshop Session
Lesson Plan
Teacher Perspectives
Student Perspectives
Essential Readings
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Student Perspectives: Lessons learned

Alex: Our group had a really high defense portion of the budget and I disagreed with that. I think what is fascinating about our group is that most of us were not in favor of that high of a defense budget but we understood that when you’re in that kind of high political role, you start to not do as much of what you believe in and do what the people want. You are going to be favorable if you do that so that’s kind of the approach we took. It turned out that most of the people in our classroom didn’t believe in that, but as a general population--the people in the United States--we feel that is what people do believe in.

This class has taught me that I can share my opinion. I used to never write what I believe and sometimes I still don’t, but I try to now because I think that makes the paper more interesting. If you’re trying to write something that you don’t believe in, the reader can tell. When I proofread my own papers when I’m not writing what I really believe, I can tell. But when I’m writing something that I really believe in it’s something really good to read.

I definitely know much more about the government after taking this class. At the beginning of the year it was economics, which is still a major role of the government. I never realized that either. I thought that it was a pretty easy process. You just put something together, present it to Congress, and you’re done. I learned that is a tough job to do. You have to please everyone and still make a budget that will work, which has to be near impossible.

Andrew: At first, I thought it was pretty simple. All of my family budgets are really easy. Then I got here. I thought this was going to be easy, too. Then things pop up and you realize that you can’t do everything you want with a set limit. So we were forced to make some additions and subtractions and cut programs that we didn’t really want to, but we had to make room for other important issues. Ms. Martin said it takes a long time--about nine months--to actually complete the budget process. I could see why. It takes so much time to debate certain areas to make it completely ok with the House of Representatives and the Senate. Compromise is a hard thing. I never actually had to face it until this year. I think that in the end it usually works out. We are [all] trying to create a better way of living. We just take different methods to get there.

It’s been a learning experience. Before ninth grade, I really never had any liberal teachers. I am not saying that Ms' Martin is liberal. It’s just that I have never been around a lot of liberal students. Last year, my English teacher was very conservative and my whole class was conservative. Now I am in a class where there are more liberal ideas except for people who come from my middle school. I have been able to open my mind and see different viewpoints.

Caitlin: In the beginning of ninth grade, I had very little knowledge of the budget. I really didn’t even think about it. However, seeing that it does affect me is one of those learning processes where you are finally taking the emphasis off yourself and looking around. Two trillion dollars sounds like a lot but when you have to allocate it to different categories, it gets smaller and smaller. You then kind of get a sense of what your Congressmen go through.

Emily: One of the comments of everyone in class was, "she’s trying to make us understand how really hard it is to pass a budget and cooperate with different people." There are so many different points of view that everybody just has to cooperate. There are the liberals and the conservatives and you have to have somebody to bring you together.

I always thought that [creating a budget] was just a bunch of lawmakers sitting up there spending our tax dollars. I never thought about all the good stuff it does and how when you want funding for something you have to pull it out of something else. People are usually more concerned about the President than they are about anything [else] but it shows me that maybe we should pay more attention to the Senators from our state, because they are the ones that can actually change things. They are the ones that have a voice in Congress. The President is only one person.

George: I had absolutely no interest in economics at all until we did a book called the Worldly Philosophers. We were learning about history and philosophers. I do my own economics reading now, simply from what I learned from her class. My understanding of economics has helped me to understand other things a lot more. I am really interested in politics. I had read several things about free market society [but] I hadn’t really understood what it was about. From learning the economic principles, I had knowledge that I could figure into other things. I am interested in world politics, and I like to read political books. We learned the philosophers. If someone says do you know the principles of Marx, I know not only who Marx is, I know about the books he wrote. I know about his theory. I know about Das Kapital. I know several quotes from Marx. I know his history. The regular curriculum was basically Marx wrote this, this, and that. I think one of the most important things [in a democracy] is that people are being educated. Economics has a very important part in our system. It supposedly gives each person the right to take their own economic future into their hands. When a person votes, he is acting in a civic forum. We live in this society where money is a very important aspect of what we are doing. It’s a capital society. Everyone uses money in a daily life, and no one really understands how money affects business. By buying something, how am I voting with my dollars? So, when we are voting for a candidate, we are not only voting for his government policy, we are voting for his economic policy, also.

Sarah: I guess I never really realized how hard it would be to make a budget. It’s hard for me to just come up with figures out of the blue. I will enjoy seeing what the actual percentages are just to see how far [off] we are with the President and the Senate. I think it helps me to identify with what I thought would happen because if she just sat there and told us what normally happens I think that I would go about it a lot differently. I think that it helps people a lot to learn things on their own and to learn things from their peers. Ms. Martin does amazing things for me. She teaches me all sorts of things but sometimes you can learn things that you wouldn’t normally get from your teacher from your classmates.

I think that it puts us in the hot seat like the Senators are when deciding where the money should go. It’s very important that we represent the people of our states. We talked a lot about pork barrel spending. Each Senator is going to be fighting for whatever [he or she thinks] is most important. In Maryland, agriculture is a really big thing and transportation also. So I, as a Senator, will be representing more money towards transportation and agriculture in our state, whereas someone from North Carolina would be really big on finding ways to pay for their tobacco spending or other issues that are big.

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