There are several potential problems with teaching economics, whether at the grade school level or beyond. Scope, currency of material and bias -- whether political or social or both -- are common problems that instructors confront when trying to teach economics to students at any age. Instructors of general economics courses also struggle to maintain an appropriate balance between teaching theory and practice.
Economics is by no means a singularly-focused discipline. Economic theory necessarily incorporates various other disciplines. It is difficult to teach economics without exploring the historical, geographic, social, political and cultural realities that facilitate and affect economics. Thus, instructors of economics courses -- especially general and basic economics courses -- struggle to keep course content contained.
Theory vs. Practice
Economics instructors tend to privilege theory or practice, while neglecting the other. Some teachers drift off into theory-intensive approaches to economics, exploring the dominant theorists and philosophies and overlooking the economic climates that facilitated such theory. For instance, a teacher might take care to thoroughly teach the socialist-leaning economic theory of John Maynard Keynes while neglecting to explain the economic crisis going on in America that inspired Keynes to promote more state involvement. To the contrary, an economics teacher might overly emphasize the practice or implementation of different economic theories without adequately exploring the theories themselves.
Because economic theory is inherently political, it is difficult to cover course content without betraying bias. This is especially so in college courses that are seminar-based. Instructors should also keep in mind that course content itself can, in some cases, betray bias. For instance, if an instructor proposes an exploratory course on economic theory in the 20th century but only gives attention to the century’s leftist leaning theorists and movements, then that instructor is failing to objectively instruct students on economic theory.
Another challenge with teaching economics is currency of content. Many teachers -- especially at the grade school and high school level -- recycle lesson plans from year to year. But economics is a rapidly changing reality. As an example, the economic collapse of 2007 completely altered the economic climate in the United States. Thus, pre-2007 curricula on current economics should be supplemented by content that includes details about the housing crisis, the bail-outs and other phenomena related to the collapse and the events and policies that ensued.
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