Tyler over at Marginal Revolution finds that about 20 states require some teaching of economics in high school. Implicit in the post is that requiring economics is a good thing. And why not? After all, the state of economic literacy in America is strikingly low, even among people who have taken some economics, and teaching economics to kids early is better than waiting, right?
I used to agree with this. No more.
Is it better to not learn any economics at all than to have it taught in high schools? You might argue that by not learning economics, young men and women will instead learn it from the Daily Show, Facebook and their friends and parents, and that this is most certainly not the font of clarity, unbiasedness, and erudition. But while there are surely stories of some inspirational, motivational and smart high school economics teachers, my guess is that most high school economics is not going to be taught by people who like economics, know much economics, or are perhaps even some form of economists themselves. Remember, wintercow has a PhD in economics and 10 years of college economics teaching experience and he is not allowed by the forces that be to teach high school economics. Nope. Have to have teacher certification here. And who is doing the teacher certification? Well, not much needs to be said about that.
So, it’s not like the question of whether we should teach students economics in high school is very simple. First, it would come at the expense of teaching them math and reading and writing, which of course they are already not mastering. But second, and more important, the quality of what they are likely to learn is, I expect, going to be poor – maybe even worse than learning nothing at all. Such course are going to be taught by social(ist) studies teachers, and other high school teachers who have spent a career indoctrinating students to think like them and not to think for themselves, who have spent a career showing Michael Moore documentaries and forcing students to read Naomi Klein and Barbara Ehrenrich books as if these were deep and truthful insights into the state of the economy and how human social relations work, and who have spent a career alarming students about over-consumption, the destruction of the planet, the problem with immigrants, and more. Do we really want to encourage more of this? Furthermore, do we want students to take a textbook approach to economics in high school? To be able to answer questions on a multiple choice AP exam written by a committee of “economists” (I know folks who write for them) who tend to take a pretty different view of things than readers of this site?
To be fair, this is not really meant to beat on the state of economics in high school. I am almost of the mind that nothing valuable happens in high school and that we should hope to soon find a way to eliminate it entirely. But until that time comes, I would much rather have our young people playing music, acting in plays, training for their sports, taking calculus, than having a mangled version of economics “taught” to them, and would prefer less opportunity for indoctrination, no more.
But I am a cranky old man, so maybe things are different.