Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Economics in Elementry/Secondary School

Economics is so important in this world, but why isn't it taught in elementry school or high school? Well most of us know that most elementry teachers will have Psych/Soc and not an economics degree. In high school, there isn't really a department-fit for it. There's the math department, there's the history department

I felt like an idiot in my first few years of University because I had no concept of economics, capitalism, trade etc... Although I had taken many history courses, and got 80s in school, I was so ignorant about a subject that makes an important difference. I really think an economics course should be a required course for graduation in high school. When was the last time you used Trigonomentry? This at least would be something useful!

This is how a guy taught economics to students in Grade 5. A pretty interesting read. Read the whole thing: Teaching Basic Economics to Fifth Graders. Here's a sample:

Lesson 1: Trade
The first week's "word for the day" was trade.

To illustrate trade, I gave each student a very small, inexpensive gift I had purchased at a Dollar General nearby. I distributed the gifts randomly, then told the students they could trade their gifts (if they wanted to) with their immediate neighbors. Some did. Then I opened the class up to unrestricted trade and said they could trade with anyone in the whole classroom. Many more now traded. When they were finished I asked how many of them had traded because they believed by trading they would be better off. All said they had.

Once they settled down again, we talked about the concept of trade in general. I was impressed with how well they already understood this concept; they seemed to clearly understand that exchange involves giving up something you value less for something you value more and finding someone else with opposite valuations. For good measure, I ended the day by snatching away the gifts of two students and forcing a trade where none had been performed. One student was happy with the exchange, the other unhappy. This allowed us to discuss the idea of a "fair" trade — which I defined as a trade where both parties voluntarily take part. Again, I was impressed with how easily they seemed to grasp this idea as I replaced the items I had snatched away for my "forced" trade.

Lesson 2: Money
Lesson 3: Savings
Lesson 4: Competition
Lesson 5: Price

My goal with these fifth graders was not just to introduce them to the basics of economic science, but to inoculate them against future attempts to teach them bad economics. By showing them that trade, money, savings, competition, and prices all have distinctly human origins and purposes, I hoped to help them make better sense out of the "economics" they will some day be exposed to.

Indeed, the concepts we discussed can easily be shown to relate quite directly to other economic concepts; for instance, trade is related to opportunity cost as well as profit and loss; money facilitates trade as well as economic calculation, savings is tied to investment, capital, and production, while competition and prices are related to demand, supply, and relative scarcity.

The constant animating force behind all human action, and the creativity it unleashes, cannot be captured in predictive models or in mathematical formulas. It is precisely this fact that precludes employing the methods of the natural sciences to solve problems of human action.[3]

The fifth-grade teacher may have struggled with this understanding of economic science, but fortunately, her students had no trouble with it.

Hat Tip: Musings of the Technical Bard


Blogger Jarrett said...

When I was in grade 11, I could choose between a spare block, metal work, and a class created by one teacher (former accountant) entitled "management innovations 12". The entire class was actually a class on "viva capitalism". We kept CNBC on, we had to understand how the stock market worked, we had to read The Wealthy Barber and so-forth. We had stock market competitions (who could make the most money?) and our exams had questions such as,

"Your grandma wants to invest in bonds. Explain to her when she should do what and why."

When Bush instituted his dividend tax cuts, I was the only person who understood the economic reason why.

Easily the best class I ever took.

Thu Jun 22, 02:06:00 AM EDT  

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