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Lessons Congress can learn from middle school

A teacher welcomes pupils in a classroom at David Johnston primary school on September 4, 2012.

Seventh graders at Washington's Lowell School have a front row seat at the shutdown show.

Seventh grade teacher Sarah Smith leads a discussion of the government shutdown.

Lowell seventh graders have lots of suggestions for shutting down the shutdown.

It’s a busy Wednesday morning at the private Lowell School in Washington. Teacher Sarah Smith is herding rambunctious seventh graders into their seats for the first class of the day: Humanities. Part of the curriculum: government. 

I’m a special guest this morning, here to get the seventh grade perspective on the shutdown. These kids have a front row seat for the shutdown show. When I ask who knows somebody who works for the government, hands shoot up.

One student says, "My dad works for EPA."

"My aunt works in the Senate," another shouts.

These students are paying attention. So when I ask them what their advice for Congress is, they’re ready.  

"I don’t know whether this would work but maybe if the government had a certain amount of money for  each thing they would want to buy," says Naomi Steinglass.  "So they would have a section of money for schools and a section for healthcare."

I tell her that believe it or not, that’s how the government is supposed to work, explaining that Congress didn’t pass the budget bills this year. And the government shut down. I ask the kids for more ideas. Ari Katz has something to say. He’s the one whose aunt works in the Senate. 

"I think Congress should allow the government an allowance," he says. And when the money runs out, he says, the spending stops. Heads nod in agreement. These kids know how allowances work. It’s sort of like a balanced budget amendment.  

Isabel Albores raises her hand. She’s the daughter of the EPA employee. She takes that balanced budget idea one step further.   

"The government should start setting aside like five percent of the money they get from taxes, so that they can start paying off the debt," she says.

With that last little bit of earnest wisdom, class is over. And the kids get back to their world. Of allowances, limits and raising their hands to speak.  

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

Seventh graders at Washington's Lowell School have a front row seat at the shutdown show.

Seventh grade teacher Sarah Smith leads a discussion of the government shutdown.

Lowell seventh graders have lots of suggestions for shutting down the shutdown.

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Dear M-G:
Commercial sponsor messages near your articles reflect on you, so I'm bringing this to your attention.

It may be my inadequate hearing, but it seems to me that the Ally spokesperson mispronounces "asterisk" as ending in "riks". While this is trivial, there will always be a certain number of listeners who judge that if there's an error that even the ignorant listener can detect, there are probably other errors he/she doesn't know about. Your presentation is always good (even when, as in this one, the approach may be light), so it concerns me that surrounding elements may detract.

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