Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Is it any wonder our kids don't understand economics?

I got an email this morning from a friend whose son is a junior at Wilson High School. He attended the back to school night, and couldn't believe what his son's economics teacher proudly displayed as the first assignment of the year.

His Email:

Wilson High School Back to School Night
Junior Year

My son's first period class: Economics

1st assignment due 9/26/05:

Using Art, Poetry, Music or some other approved creative medium, Illustrate your understanding of one of the following:

Economic Resources
Economic Questions
Production Possibilities Curve
Forms of Exchange

Current events assignment: 5 of these are due per quarter. You may do all 5 early in the quarter, but you may only turn in one per week late in the quarter. (In other words, if he waits until the last 3 weeks, he can only turn in three of these)

Clip an editorial article, and State the subject, the byline The periodical from which you found it. State the who, what when where why and how; state whether the article is fact or an opinion,
[Duh! It's an editorial! - RK] and if it is biased one way or another [Editorials are SUPPOSED to be biased! - RK]. Clearly state your understanding of the subject. [What kind of an instruction is this? It's not just awkwardly worded, it is difficult to understand what it is she is looking for. -RK]

(The teacher said she would deduct points if she had to actually read the article. Remember, this is not Journalism, it is Econ)

This is no joke. We have all seen e-mails and snippets that kid about this, but this is for real. I sat there last night and was shocked.

His class is Economics...not Art, not English Literature, not Music nor Applied sociology.

It occurs to me that several of you may have some Ideas for how my son can best complete this assignment. With your help, I am sure he will get an A in this class.

My response:

You've run into a shining example of "integrated" curriculum. That's where everyone pretends that there's great educational benefit drawn from melding two or more disciplines into one activity or lesson, which almost always results in a completely contrived exercise in which the actual learning objective becomes secondary to the form of the product.

Part of the philosophy here is that every student has a different "learning style" and so it is tyranny to expect all kids to perform an academic exercise in the same way, with the same medium. So things like music and art are fine substitutes for mundane skills like writing clearly. If Johnny isn't a verbal learner, but rather is a visual learner or an auditory learner, it is wrong to require that he produce coursework using the written word. It is perfectly OK for him to, say, perform a rap routine to demonstrate his mastery of economics as it is for him to produce a well articulated essay.

There is so much wrong with this way of thinking that it is hard to know where to start. First, we all know, after all, that his employers are going to similarly adjust what they require from him based on his "learning style," right? What message are we sending our kids when we tell them the world will constantly adjust what it requires based on what their strengths may or may not be? Of course we tell them that they shouldn't worry about getting better at what is difficut for them, and they only have to do what comes easy. There's a great message for our youth.

Second, there is absolutely no good evidence that 1) there are really "learning style" differences and 2) if there were, there still isn't any valid way for a teacher to gauge what student's learning style actually is. It's all just assumption based on theory resulting is some of the most inane classroom procedures ever concocted - a wonderful example of which you have given here.

Finally - just look at the exercise. Forget for a minute the part about using music or art. Even if the teacher had asked them to write an essay about one of those four topics - consider how murky the assignment actually is. What is the teacher asking them to prove they know?

Demonstrate their understanding of Economic Resources? What does that mean? Economic Questions? WHICH economic questions?

How unfocused could it possibly get? This assignment means nothing because any and all responses could be valid.

I am sad to say that this is the kind of stuff that is predominant in our high schools these days. It is an utter and complete waste of time.

However, I do have a suggestion for your son as to what he can do for the assignment. He should demonstrate his understanding of "Forms of Exchange.'

He should compose a rap song, perform it as if he is 50 Cent, in which he proposes to give a street whore drugs in exchange for sex.

Perfectly valid demonstration of the economic principle of barter, one of the original "forms of exchange."


Anonymous said...

Yeah, well that's nothin'... Listen to this - my 8th grade daughter was telling me what they did in her math class the other day - and one of their assigments was to pick the odd numbers out of a string of numbers... IN THE 8TH GRADE??!!! Are you kidding me?

Chris McMullen said...

My Sophomore's teachers keep telling him and his classmates how little BHS staff gets paid.

Moreover, every school newsletter is rife with cultural tolerance and diversity mandates.

Meanwhile, Beaverton schools have a serious latino gang problem.

MAX Redline said...

Excellent response! Once upon a time, the purpose of schools was to teach children skills, such as reading. How we got from there to here is a mystery to me, but I suspect it may involve unions and liberal mentalities.

Anonymous said...

These things don't happen by accident. The Commies took over our schools a long time ago, and have been dumbing them down ever since.

Dare!PDX said...

My experience with Economics in highschool resulted in a similar experience. I went to Benson and had good teachers (some a little liberal of course, but competant).

Having a degree in economics now I look back at my personal finance/economics classes and recall how incomplete and wrong the course work was.

What your blog posting proves is that non-scientific people can't teach classes based on the scientific method. What you'll get instead of inductive science is deductive opinion and half-fast teaching.

I just regret the fact that our educational system insists on adding more and more requirements at the expense of basic competance and critical thinking.