Progressive Resources for Teaching Economics
Finding progressive resources for teaching introductory economics at the high school and early college levels can be difficult. The many pedagogically sophisticated and attractively packaged curriculum materials distributed by groups such as the National Council on Economic Education, the Foundation for Teaching Economics, and Junior Achievement reflect views that range from narrowly neoclassical to strictly right-wing—not surprising, given the funding of these efforts by corporations and conservative foundations. The fact that these groups helped design the Voluntary National Content Standards for high school economics means that simplistic neoclassical principles are becoming even more firmly entrenched in high school textbooks and standardized tests.
D&S has also run a number of articles about right-wing bias in economics teaching, including:
- N. Gregory Mankiw: From the Classroom to the White House
- Harvard Students Demand Alternative Economics
- High School Econ: Corporate Sponsorship and Pro-Market Bias
- Teaching About Stocks for Fun and Propaganda
It's time for progressive economists to fight back.
The sampling of progressive economics teaching resources listed below is adapted from Introducing Economics: A Critical Guide for Teaching, a textbook and associated website by economists Mark Maier and Julie Nelson: "While we hope this information will be helpful to instructors, the list of materials available to counter the neoclassical onslaught is still woefully short. We enthusiastically welcome suggestions of further materials and, particularly, collaboration in efforts to organize, fund, create, and disseminate more 'real world' economics to tomorrow's leaders."
Please visit the Introducing Economics website. with any suggestions you have about how to expand this list, and we will pass them along to Mark and Julie.
- American Labor Studies Center
Organized by U.S. labor unions to collect, analyze, evaluate, create and disseminate labor history and labor studies curricula and related materials, the site provides annotated links to dozens of lesson plans on labor, child labor, and labor history, and a 20-page "Labor Education for the K -12 Curriculum." This is a good starting point to find labor-oriented lessons from a variety of sources.
- American Social History Project / Center for Media and Learning
Based at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, the project produces "print, visual and multimedia materials about the working men and women whose actions and beliefs shaped U.S. history." The project offers highly engaging lessons based on original books and CD-ROMs and is especially useful for integrating economic history and labor history into social science courses.
- Center for Popular Economics
The Center for Popular Economics is best known for its book, The Ultimate Field Guide to the U.S. Economy, and summer workshops for educators and political activists interested in a left perspective. High school teachers will find most useful the "Econ-Atrocity" bulletins, interspersed with occasional "Econ-Utopia" bulletins. These breezily written essays, offering a left-wing view on economic issues such as farm subsidies, soft drink prices, and the legacy of Alan Greenspan, could be a provocative counterpart to articles from the business press. "Globalization Briefs," published in collaboration with the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and supported by the Ford Foundation, are higher-level readings that may be difficult for high school students even with their convenient online glossary.
- Consumer Jungle
Established as the result of a lawsuit against Sears Corporation, Consumer Jungle offers teaching units with interactive games on credit, budgeting, and buying cars, computers, and phones. The "Consumer Awareness" side of the website provides updated information on corporate practices harmful to consumers.
- Creative Change: Educational Solutions
This nonprofit group based in Michigan is committed to promoting "economic, environmental, and community well-being." It is a clearinghouse for lesson plans, some of which are downloadable (registration required), on environmental, land use, food, ecological, and cultural responsiveness.
- Dollars & Sense
Dollars & Sense magazine, published bimonthly, is a good source for articles that present an alternative perspective on a range of current economic issues. Dollars & Sense also publishes a number of books; the Real World Macro, Real World Micro, and Current Economic Issues anthologies, which include overviews and discussion questions and are updated annually, are particularly useful resources.
- Facing the Future
This group, funded by progressive foundations and some corporations, takes as its goal developing "young people's capacity and commitment to create thriving, sustainable, and peaceful local and global communities." It provides both free downloadable activities (registration required) and materials for sale on global issues, including the environment, poverty, and consumption, designed for use in middle school and high school classrooms.
- Financial Markets Center (FMC)
Underwritten mainly by grants from charitable foundations, the FMC works with policy makers, scholars, journalists, and educators to "enhance the accountability of monetary authorities" and "build the capacity of central banks and regulatory systems to promote economic outcomes that broadly benefit all members of society." Timely reports by the FMC can help you understand Federal Reserve policymaking and evaluate appointments to the Federal Reserve's Board of Governors.
- Global Development and Environmental Institute (GDAE)
Although the educational materials developed by GDAE are primarily geared for a university audience, some of them may be also be useful in a high school course. GDAE's Teaching Modules on Social and Environmental Issues in Economics offer student readings and instructor support materials (downloadable free of charge) on a variety of issues. Funded largely by private and progressive foundations, the institute is "dedicated to promoting a better understanding of how societies can pursue their economic and community goals in an environmentally and socially sustainable manner."
- The New Press
Publishes a number of excellent and accessible books on economics from a left perspective, including: The Color of Wealth, Field Guide to the U.S. Economy, Field Guide to the Global Economy, 10 Excellent Reasons Not to Hate Taxes, 10 Excellent Reasons for National Health Care, Wage Theft in America, and a range of other titles, including books that D&S distributes for United for a Fair Economy (click here for more information). The New Press's latest offering in left economics is Economics for the Rest of Us: Debunking the Science That Makes Life Dismal.
- Population and Development Program
Based at Hampshire College, and supported by private foundations, the Population and Development Program seeks to bring "a global perspective to the study and investigation of population and environmental issues." Population in Perspective is a high school-level curriculum resource that challenges students to think critically about national and international population, development, and environment issues. A 300-page guide offers readings, handouts, and creative teaching ideas on the impact of population on food, hunger, the environment, and poverty.
- Public Broadcasting System (PBS)
Intended for use with the program Now, the web site offers considerable support for teachers including free transcripts, handouts, related resources, and extensively documented teaching strategies. Economics-related topics covered on the site include Global Women and Poverty, Corporate Governance, Medicare Reform, Global Health, Soft Drink Sales at Schools, and Rising Costs of Health Care.
- Rethinking Schools
Rethinking Schools publishes educational materials committed to the vision that "public education is central to the creation of a humane, caring, multiracial democracy." The quarterly journal, Rethinking Schools, is an important channel for current debate about U.S. educational practice. Books published or sold by Rethinking Schools include Rethinking Globalization: Teaching for Justice in an Unjust World and The Power in Our Hands: A Curriculum on the History of Work and Workers in the United States. Rethinking Schools' curricular materials, including simulation exercises and activities in which students assess their role in social change, are often quite creative. The lessons often take strong anti-inequality, progressive political stands, and do not include opposing viewpoints. Nonetheless, the large number of articles, poems, cartoons, and moving personal accounts on race, class, and gender issues offer a balance to corporate-sponsored and conservative viewpoints.
TeachableMoment.org is project of Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility, a New York City-based group created to "integrate conflict resolution and intercultural understanding into the daily life of schools." Several times a month the web site posts activities for use in high school classrooms on war, peace, social justice, and environmental issues. Nearly all activities ask students to evaluate a current controversy, and include ready-to-use student readings, often presenting different sides on an issue. Follow-up questions are carefully organized to promote discussion, writing, and further inquiry. Archived activities relevant to economics include: "Economic Anxiety," "Military Spending and the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex," "Problems at the Pump" "The Social Security Controversy," and "Wal-Mart and Its Critics."
- Teaching Economics As If People Mattered
Under the auspices of Reach and Teach and United for a Fair Economy (see below), the site offers the high school appropriate, ready-to-go lesson plans from a print book entitled Teaching Economics As If People Mattered, now being converted to a multimedia web format. Many of the lesson plans, including "The Ten Chairs," "Savings Accounts and Stocks," "Born on Third Base," and "Signs of the Times" are currently available.
- Teaching for Change
This group focuses on multicultural education with a goal of social justice. While its scope is much broader than high school economics, searching its catalog for "economics" or "globalization" results in information on a number of books and videos produced from a left-of-center perspective. The organization is funded by a number of private foundations and state humanities councils.
- United for a Fair Economy
United for a Fair Economy (UFE) offers research, education programs, and publications on the distribution of wealth and power in the United States. Most influential has been its "Responsible Wealth" project, a network of affluent citizens concerned about the issue of the growing inequality of wealth and income. Statements by this group favoring higher taxes and support for government programs could prompt thoughtful class discussion. The "Economics Education" section of the group's website lists a number of reports (which can be downloaded for free) as well as books and workshop packages, and an extensive reading list.