ten trillion and counting

Financial Literacy Guide: Government Borrowing


About the Film

All of the federal government's efforts to stem the tide in the financial meltdown that began with the subprime mortgage crisis have added hundreds of billions of dollars to our national debt. Ten Trillion and Counting reports on how this debt will constrain and challenge the new Obama administration, and on the growing chorus on both sides of the aisle that without fiscal reform, the United States government may face a debt crisis of its own which makes the current financial situation pale in comparison. Through interviews with leading experts and insiders in government finance, the film investigates the causes and potential outcomes of -- and possible solutions to -- America's $10 trillion debt.


Watching the Film

Teachers can either assign the film for viewing as homework or show the film in class. Suggested discussion questions are provided. The lessons and activities in this guide are focused on excerpts from the film and can be viewed on DVD in class or online.


Note to Teachers

This guide is intended for classes in social studies, civics and government, economics, business studies, mathematics, current events and history; grade levels 9-12. This lesson on government borrowing begins with an overview of important economic terms. The main lesson is a budget simulation game that helps students understand the choices the government faces when allocating scarce resources while not exceeding deficit and debt levels that could put our economy at risk in the future. An optional additional lesson engages students in researching and creating a budget for the United States. You can modify the lesson to accommodate instructional time and student abilities.


Discussion Questions:

This guide includes a list of questions for students to discuss after viewing Ten Trillion and Counting.


Featured Lesson Plan:

“Government Borrowing”

Lesson Objectives:

Students will explore:

  • Important economic terms related to government budgeting and borrowing
  • The process used for developing a government budget
  • Trade-offs that must be made when developing a budget
  • How government pays its debt
  • What can happen if the percentage of debt to GDP is too high



"You Make the Budget"
Students will create a budget for the United States government.


Purchasing the Film:

Ten Trillion and Counting can be purchased from Shop PBS for Teachers. Also, teachers and students can watch the film streamed on FRONTLINE's Web site,



This lesson was developed by Simone Bloom Nathan of Media Education Consultants, Inc. It was written by Kevin Murley of Montgomery Blair High School, Silver Spring, Md. Advisers were Debra Plafker Gutt of Stuyvesant High School, New York; Greg Timmons, curriculum writer and educational consultant; and Joshua Weiner of Benson Polytechnic High School, Portland, Ore.

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