Saturday, October 6, 2012

Learning abut the "Fiscal Cliff"

My block class of senior students studying Economics can sometimes be a challenge as they are mandated to take (and pass) this course in order to graduate. For many this topic is not the most interesting as I have found that they fear math concepts they do not understand and vocabulary they find strange. My job has been to break it down by simplifying it to the world around them. Our discussions have included talk about opportunity cost, competition, simple supply and demand, inflation, and the business cycle. Yesterday I backed off a bit and I injected the current events topic of "The Upcoming Fiscal Cliff."

When you mention "video" to high school students, they often reply in a positive way since their generation is loaded with visual learners. I opened the class period by asking how many of them had heard the expression "fiscal cliff" and I was flabbergasted by a total lack of knowledge. 100% of them had NEVER heard of it, despite the ongoing conversation on network and cable news, and if anyone was going to feel its impact it would be them once they graduated next June.

I began with two distinct segments which introduced the term "fiscal cliff" in different ways. The first was an offering from RT News, a Russian news agency which ironically publishes some credible reporting- so much so that Pew Research has labeled RT News as the #1 source for the most popular videos on YouTube. If you'd like to sample that video, here's the link: Another informational video was served up to the class, this one by Paddy Hirsch, an acclaimed artist who explained it in a different light...again with a visual lesson. I knew I had the attention of my class when I asked them to think about the consequences of driving off a steep cliff without any security of having a job, much less an education to rely on.
Based on the responses offered up, they were able to directly associate the terms of inflation, depression, recession, GDP, and unemployment. Suddenly these had meaning and association with their life, and they were ready to wade a little deeper into the pool of opinion and politics of the day. I reminded the students that I was not there to promote my opinion, but rather I wanted them to think for themselves. The next two segments would include perspectives from opposite ends of the political spectrum, one from Howard Dean, a liberal politician who believed that the fiscal cliff will bring about necessary change in the economy. The other opinion came from Peter Schiff, a conservative investor who fears that such an event would be catastrophic for the economy.

Upon completion of all the videos, I opened the floor for discussion and was amazed at the good thinking take place in front of me. Not everyone agreed in the same way, which is only human nature. Some were passionate in their speech, others somewhat confused as to WHY they had not heard of "fiscal cliff" before in their daily journey through current events. Regardless, they now knew what might be in store for them and the rest of the country after December 31, 2012. Rather than opening class with a written prompt, I saved this routine for the back end of class, asking each student to reply with a minimum of a half-page which offered up their opinion on the subject. Total silence ensued as pencils and pens made contact with paper like never before. This lesson was a true success if only to get them thinking about eonomics and the world around them! Cool stuff!!


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  2. Hi Mr. Duesterbeck,

    Everyone of your writings are excellent.

    A few suggestions:

    * Knowing the area, some adults I have met there are void of yoour subjects. I suggest you send your writings to all of the local newspapers. I would ask if they would like to receive future mailings and give permission to utilize them in their publications. You can send past articles so that the Editors get a flavor of your content.Give permission to utilize those and include your photo.

    On the right side of this column, please change "in something..." to "is something" first.

    You may, when the subject is relevant, interview successful business people for brief comments.

    Great job you are doing,

    The Czar of proof-reading.