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Demystifying the 'Dismal Science'

By Joan Dye Gussow

One would not normally pick up a book called Introducing Economics with expectations for an exciting evening. As economist Robert Heilbroner is reported to have remarked: "Mathematics has given economics rigor, but alas, also mortis." So the good news is that Introducing Economics manages to be both rigorous, and un-deadly.

This is a book meant for high school teachers assigned to teach economics. Although the subject is relatively new to the high school curriculum, Maier and Nelson note, most states now mandate some economics teaching in the high school curriculum, and half of all high school graduates take an economics course. How do their teachers learn the content, since many of them would never have had a course in economics themselves?

There are, of course, textbooks, and an abundance of supplementary materials available to help teachers out, in print and online. But "[M]ost available textbooks are slanted toward free market, small-government solutions," Maier and Nelson observe, and many of the available supplementary materials "are sponsored by groups with a vested interest in standard neoclassical economics." This slant is far too limiting, the authors believe, to fully address the kinds of questions economics tries to answer.

But this book is not designed simply to argue with neoclassical economics; it is intended to expand the vision of the field, to introduce to those who are teaching this often dreaded subject matter the basics of other major schools of economics — entrepreneurial, Keynesian, consumer, labor, ecological and the like — in order to provide an intellectual history of the subject. Their hope is to enable teachers new to economics, or unhappy with limits of standard texts, to evaluate — and expand on — the viewpoints they encounter in these texts as well as in the National Council on Economic Education's (NCEE) Voluntary National Content Standards. To introduce beginning economics teachers to a broader set of materials, ideas, and internet resources is to enable them to go outside standard texts and find something exciting to use in the classroom.

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