Aug 5, 2013
Economics generally seems to be the Social Studies class that both teachers and students tend to be least enthused about. The Social Studies class first year teachers say, ‘Oh yeah, I love Economics. Let me teach that,’ and then run away from it as soon as World or US History opens up. The curriculum gives the impression of a wide-ranging mishmash of monetarily-related topics that mostly focuses on globalization, national economic models, and big businesses. The current New York State standards for Economics state:
Students will use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of how the United States and other societies develop economic systems and associated institutions to allocate scarce resources, how major decision-making units function in the U.S. and other national economies, and how an economy solves the scarcity problem through market and nonmarket mechanisms.
. . . But how is this meant to be meaningful to the student? How is learning about how societies developed their economic systems or the interaction between small and large businesses relevant to students?
That’s how I felt, before I actually fully read the curriculum. In fact, it was a thought I had posed to an Economics teacher-turned-Principal earlier this week, who enthusiastically agreed that it should be changed. I was mulling it over though, and I’ve since modified my original thought with the same premise. I still feel that Personal Finance should replace the traditional Economics class as the mate to Government. I do, however, feel that Economics does have a place in the Social Studies curriculum.
First, why replace the Economics requirement with a Personal Finance requirement? The students coming out of school today need primarily to know how to properly manage their own finances. How many people are there who buy $120 sneakers or the latest $300 phone without the thought of how much it costs. I can’t count how often I’ve heard, ‘Oh, I can just put that on credit,’ as if a plastic card is an ever-lasting supply of money. How much do college students take out in student loans or how many home owners purchase their house without thinking of the amount that they’ll have to pay back on their loan? Between January 2007 and December 2011, there were approximately 12.2 million foreclosures.
We live in an age of rampant financial illiteracy – an era of where people are taught to ‘Spend! Spend! Spend!’ How can we expect to be creating Citizen Scholars if we do not teach them how to make responsible decisions made by critically analyzing their choices? In New York State, less than a third of the Economics curriculum develops any semblance of financial literacy.
That being said, the remaining 72% or so of the curriculum focuses on macroeconomics: making fiscal policy, labor practices, establishing businesses, globalization, and the economic policies and theories of other countries and cultures. I’ll freely admit that these topics are also important to learn. Students need to learn that ‘There’s No Such Thing As A Free Meal’ as my own Economics teacher always used to say, and the underlying principles of creating and managing a business, understanding how world economies run - these are also vital for the Citizen Scholar to understand.
When I first started turning this topic around in my head, I felt that Economics needed to be wiped from the curriculum entirely in favor of Finance. After mulling it over, I think I have a better solution. Replace the semester-long Economics requirement with Personal Finance. Teach our Citizen Scholars how to be fiscally responsible in their own lives. Further, make Economics an additional semester-long class – potentially as an elective. In that way, students, whether more economically-inclined or otherwise, will still be able to develop the skills and understanding necessary to understand and analyze the economic trends and forecasts that shape our world.
This addition and substitution could also allow the Finance course to become a cross-curricular class with Math, giving students more meaningful and engaging base for both Social Studies & Mathematics, linking STEM and the Humanities at a natural connection point.
It’s just a thought I’ve had, but I do sincerely feel that Finance is a much more practical class that all students should be required to take. If I had to choose between the two, I would not hesitate to drop Economics in favor of it.
Resources for Social Studies Students & Teachers