Foreign Aid - Clean Version
Directions For Teachers
Divide your amazing/infuriating class into teams of 3 or 4
100 pennies per team (ask the kids to bring in 33 pennies each). You will use the pennies all year. Fun Fact; Did you know that it costs about 1.5 cents to make 1 penny?
Post-it-notes (5 per team) You could ask them to bring these in, too.
Smartphones for survey completing and photo bombing (1 per team)
Blank Paper (4 pieces of paper per team)
30 - 90 minutes - depending on how much of the lesson you cover
How much does the U.S. spend on foreign aid and how much should it spend?
Share Your Opinion
Here’s a question for you.
What portion of the US budget (the money our federal government spends each year) is spent on foreign aid?
Or less than 1%
While you think of your answer let me say hi, welcome to GoPo Pro. Seat backs and tray tables should be in their upright and locked position prior to takeoff because today we’re going to learn all about the American political system. And as we go on our magical learning adventure, please keep in mind: 37% of all statistics are made up on the spot!
So back to the question: What portion of the US budget is spent on foreign aid?
less than 1%
Or more than 100% - wait!
And here’s one more question.
Which of the following best describes your opinion of how much the US spends on foreign aid?
About the Right Amount
Don’t know/Refuse to Answer/Hate you with fire and fury
By the way. Just to put this whole conversation in perspective. The federal budget is REALLY big. Last year, in Fiscal Year 2016 the U.S. federal government spent over 4,1 trillion dollars. That’s right. I said: $4.1 trillion.
$4.1 trillion looks like this: 4,100,000,000,000 dollars.
Which is the same as 4 thousand billion dollars plus 100 billion dollars.
If you really want to understand the magnitude of a number that large, check out this visualization.
That guy in red, by the way, should be cheering, not just standing there all slouchy.
Now multiply the amount from that image 4 times and you’re almost to the amount the US government spent last year. DANG JUDY!
Or let’s visualize it another way. Imagine a pizza cost 10 dollars! With 4.1 trillion dollars you could buy 410 billion pizzas. Or, even better, you could buy one GINORMOUS PIZZA!
Back to work. Let's get to visualizing the US budget. It’s penny time! You can play along at home.
Get out 100 pennies. If you don’t happen to have 100 pennies with you, get a job, slacker! Now, if you can't round up 100 pennies you can use 100 beans (dry please!), 100 scraps of paper, 100 flip phones, or really just about anything that comes in hundreds and you can get your grubby little hands on. I’m going to use pennies because that’s how I roll.
In our budget simulation, each penny will equal 1 percent of the US budget. That means that each penny is worth approximately $41 billion. I want one.
Now, get out a piece of paper. We need to put those pennies (or whatever 100 stupid things you have) into a circle on the paper. Arrange the pennies in a circle on the middle of the paper. Spread the pennies out so that they are touching but not overlapping each other. Pro Tip: one of your more anxious classmates will probably try to turn all the pennies facing the same direction - heads or tails up. Don’t say anything, but when they aren't looking, flip one of the pennies the opposite way-up, and see what they do. Repeat. Now draw a circle around the edge of the pennies. Remove the pennies. Try not to spend them all in one place.
Now before we get to the main event - foreign aid expenditures - let’s practice with our pennies on something else.
Imagine the circle represents all the money the US government spends each year (the budget).
Anybody know the biggest single expenditure in the US budget?
That's right, monster-claw person, you guessed it. Back in Fiscal Year 2016 the biggest single expenditure in the US budget was Social Security! And how much did we spend on social security? Drum roll please. Yep, you got it: One thousand three hundred and sixty nine billion dollars. Wow. 1,369,100,000,000 Washingtons! Boom! That's a lot of pizza!
See that dark blue part there in the circle below. That represents US spending on Social Security just in 2016.
That’s roughly 33% of the total budget!
33 is a special number. It’s about ⅓; it’s the age I’ve been for the past 16 years; it’s also the amount of revolutions per minute for an LP; and it’s the age when the following celebrities died: John Belushi, Sam Cooke, Alexander the Great - but not so great at getting old, The Rapper Big Moe, Jesus Christ, and Baseball legend Darryl Kyle. Oh, and Justin Bieber - he just hasn’t gotten there yet. Ouch!
Wait a second, you might say. Just what on earth is this social security thing we’re spending so much money on?
Social Security is the foundation of economic security for millions of Americans—retirees, disabled persons, and families of retired, disabled or deceased workers. About 163 million Americans pay Social Security taxes and 59 million collect monthly benefits.
Sign me up, baby!
Practice Makes Perfect
So just to make sure we are all on the same page. Put your piece of paper with the circle on your desk. Now put all your pennies back in the circle. Then take out pennies until the number of pennies that remain equals, as a percent of the total budget, what we spend on social security.
Survey says: your paper should have precisely 33 pennies in that circle. I'm getting hungry! Take out a sticky note or piece of paper and write “Social Security” on it. Now, take a selfie with the circle-paper and the pennies and the post-it not. Post that photograph on your Instagram feed #socialsecurityspendingofinstagram
Hello dates!!!! Now. wipe the pennies clean!
This time for reals
Okay. Now that you’ve got the hang of it, let’s try this again. This time we’ll consider how much the US spends on Foreign Aid!
What is Foreign Aid?
Funny, I just happen to know. Foreign aid is assistance we give other countries. Foreign aid is money that one country voluntarily transfers to another, which can take the form of a gift, a grant or a loan.
We tend to give foreign aid to poor countries or countries in crisis. Rich countries like Switzerland and Japan don’t need a whole lot of foreign aid. You don’t go around giving Dollar Store gift certificates to Millionaires, and the U.S. doesn’t give a whole lot of foreign aid to rich countries.
In the United States, foreign aid usually refers only to economic assistance and military assistance the federal government gives to other governments.
Economic assistance includes all programs with development or humanitarian objectives. That tends to include projects related to health, disaster relief, the promotion of civil society, agriculture and the like. Most economic aid dollars come from the State Department budget, including spending allocated by USAID.
Military aid includes military financing, which our allies use to buy weapons, funding intended to advance counterterrorism and anti-narcotics initiatives, and money spent on efforts related to military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and other nations. Most military aid dollars come from either the State Department’s or the Pentagon’s budget.
Here’s a list of the top destinations of US foreign aid.
When you put all US foreign aid together, foreign aid be like
Now it's your turn
In the circle on your paper, place the number of pennies out of our total budget that you think the average American thinks we spend on foreign aid. Did you get that? Not the amount you think we spend, but the amount you think most Americans think the US spends on foreign aid. That's complicated but you can do it!
Write the words “Predicted US Foreign Aid” on a sticky note and place it at the top of the paper.
Take a selfie of all that #fakenews Hello viral celebrity!
Okay. Let’s compare your fake guesses to the actual answers. Here’s how much Americans imagined we spent on foreign aid.
According to an NPR report from 2015, the average respondent estimated that 26 percent went toward assisting other countries.
What the what?!
If you put 26 pennies on the circle...Bravo - that's precisely the number the average American thinks we spend on foreign aid. And check this out - 10% of Americans think we spent over half!!!!!!! Yes over half of all our federal budget on foreign aid. Wow! That's like guessing that the average high school senior spends 90% of their time on homework.
Now. clear those pennies off the paper and get ready to rumble.
Let's try this another way.
Put the number of pennies on the circle that you believe represents the actual percent of the US budget that we spend on foreign aid.
Take a sticky note and write the words “Actual US Foreign Aid”
Get ready. Get Set. Lose!
That's right, the actual number is less than 1 penny! That’s right - less than 1%!
Is there anything less than a penny? Can you get out a little saw and cut off about a bit of that penny? Stop.
Put one penny in the circle. Take a picture with the pennies, sticky note, circle, your best friends, your pet dog drinking a latte, and post it on the internet with #actualusforeignaid
Before you post this. Pro Tip - The internet remembers everything!
Now isn’t that interesting how far off reality can be from perception. If you were one of those people who guessed less than 1% you were right!
And now here’s another round chart that shows what happens when people learn about how much the US actually spends on foreign aid. And I’d like you to be honest, just this once, and think about how your opinion of our foreign aid spending has changed based on what you now know.
Let’s take that survey again.
Which of the following best describes your opinion of how much the US spends on foreign aid?
About the Right Amount
Don’t know/Refuse to Answer/You talkin’ to me?
Foreign Aid Questions
After they see the reality of foreign aid spending, the number of people who say we spend too much is cut in half. Meanwhile, the number of people who say we spend too little is more than doubled. So this raises a number of interesting questions. Please answer them.
- How much of your opinion about the world is based on facts, data, and reality and how much is based on hunches, guesses, and opinions?
- How democratic is our system if the people voting don’t know what we are doing and don’t support what we are doing when they find it out?
- Who is making these decisions about foreign aid spending?
- In what other areas are American policies this different from American opinion?
- What would happen if all Americans knew this information about foreign aid?
- Just what is this foreign aid for anyway? And who gets it?
- How has your opinion on foreign aid changed today?
Before landing. You might be curious how US foreign aid compares to other countries.
Final Foreign Aid Question
What portion of our GDP (that’s the total amount of money our country makes each year) do we give in foreign aid?
Here’s how our foreign aid as a percentage of our GDP (a country’s annual income) compares globally.
In other words, if all our money for the entire year equals $100. We keep $99.87 and give the rest to the poor. Wow, that's generous!
Foreign Aid Points of View
Think about how different people would feel about the issue of foreign aid and complete our foreign aid points of view sheet.
Foreign Aid Simulation Time
Now before we are done let's get in teams of 4 and complete this Foreign Aid Simulation!
Before you form your opinion, check out what these heavy hitters from the left and the right have to say about foreign aid.
Jeffrey Sachs makes the case for foreign aid
Angus Deaton's surprising argument against foreign aid
Mike Patton links foreign aid and fighting corruption
Read all three opinions and share which you think is the most compelling argument and why.
Or have teams read one argument and share its central opinion.
Hey, y'all! This would be a great time for a fishbowl about Foreign Aid!
Write Makes Might
Now let’s end our investigation and synthesize all we've learned by writing!
Let’s start by writing. And here’s a pro-tip, not everyone actually agrees with you. Your job is to convince other people of the validity of your argument. Start by convincing yourself and then scale up. Here’s the question you’ll be arguing about.
Should the U.S. increase its foreign aid?
Write it out!
Lights, Camera, ACTION
One more thing. Knowledge is only as good as what you do with it!
So let’s take action.
Remember what you just wrote about foreign aid? Try to convince someone who can actually do something about this that your opinion about foreign aid is correct. Try sharing your thoughts with the President or Congress or the Secretary of State. You could also try to convince the general public and get them to convince their representative. Or you could form an interest group. It doesn’t matter what you do as much as that you do something. Remember, our foreign aid got where it is because people argued about it and someone won. Why not take a try at winning? Ready Set Go! When you’re done, share the result of your action with class.
Your Opinion again
Now that you’ve learned about and acted on this issue, share your opinion - retake our foreign aid survey.
How did your opinion change?
In what way did your opinion not change?
What do you know now that you didn’t know before.
I hope you’ve enjoyed playing with us. If you like this presentation please share it! And just think, if you share it enough it might just change foreign aid spending. Thanks for joining us, now please sit back, relax, and enjoy your flight! We’ll see you next time!
Actually There's More
If you dug our Foreign Aid Lesson you'll love our policy unit!