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the secret history of the credit card


Discussion Questions

Featured Lesson Plan
  • Who Controls the Real Cost of Credit Cards?
  • Student Handout: Viewer's Guide
  • Student Handout: How Much Does Debt Cost?

  • Additional Lesson Ideas
  • Making a Persuasive Statement
  • Personal Bankruptcy: What Does It Mean?

  • Resources

    Printable .pdf of Entire Guide
    (Adobe Acrobat required)

    » About the Film:

    The average American family today carries eight credit cards. Credit card debt and personal bankruptcies are now at an all-time high. With no legal limit on the amount of interest or fees that can be charged, credit cards have become the most profitable sector of the American banking industry: more than $30 billion in profits last year alone. FRONTLINE and The New York Times examine how the credit card industry became so pervasive, so lucrative, and so politically powerful.

    » A Note to Teachers:

    Although a majority of adults in the United States use credit cards on a regular basis, most do not know the terms of their agreement with the companies that issue their cards. "The Secret Life of Credit Cards" invites students to consider who controls the costs and benefits of the plastic on which Americans have come to rely.
    For classes in Social Studies, American Government, Current Events and Economics, Mathematics; Grade level 9th – 12th.

    » Discussion Questions:

    A list of questions for students to discuss before and immediately after viewing.

    » Featured Lesson Plan:

    Who Controls Real Cost of Credit Cards?

    Students will examine the costs and benefits of credit cards by:

    • Completing a viewer's guide for the documentary
    • Learning about the cost of credit by working through a case study

    » Additional Lesson Ideas:

    Making A Persuasive Statement
    Students will use information from the documentary and/or additional research to create a persuasive letter or cartoon that illustrates their viewpoints.

    Personal Bankruptcy: What Does it Mean?
    One of the last options for people overwhelmed with credit card debt is declaring personal bankruptcy. This online lesson plan will allow students to explore the frequently asked questions about filing for bankruptcy and present their findings to the class.

    » Purchasing the Film:

    "The Secret History of Credit Cards" can be purchased from Shop PBS for Teachers. Also, teachers and students can watch the film streamed in its entirety on FRONTLINE's Web site.

    » Credits

    This teacher's guide was developed by Simone Bloom Nathan of Media Education Consultants. It was written by Ellen Greenblatt of University High School, San Francisco. Advisers were Patricia Grimmer of Carbondale High School, Carbondale, Illinois and Joshua Weiner of Benson Polytechnic High School, Portland, Oregon.

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