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Forum for Social Economics, 42/1 (2013): Special Issue on Teaching Social Economics

FseFollowing are the contents (with abstracts) of the latest issue of Forum for Social Economics (42,1, 2013), a special issue on "Teaching Social Economics."


Introduction to Teaching Social Economics, Geoff Schneider & Daniel Underwood

Teaching Macroeconomics

Critical Thinking and Applied Political Economy: Towards Understanding the Social Construction of Reality, Daniel A. Underwood

This article provides a design template to construct a macroeconomics course using a multiparadigmatic approach using discovery based learning. Students use alternative paradigms–Classical, Keynesian, Institutionalist, Marxist, Monetarist, Schumpterian–to explore forces explaining the business cycle. They access and manipulate primary economic data to evaluate distributional outcomes using applied political economy; the use of alternative paradigms to systematically trace out how economic science is used to support policies directing the distribution of income. The course capstone applies economic paradigms and data analysis to evaluate policy propositions related to contemporary macroeconomic issues.

Krugman Meets Marx and Keynes at the Baby-Sitting Co-op, Mark Lautzenheiser & Yavuz Yaşar

Paul Krugman tells the story of the Capitol Hill baby-sitting co-op as a means of introducing readers to the economics of recessions. We take the story from where Krugman stops and develop it by presenting different aspects of a monetary economy with the help of a graphical analysis. This is done with the introduction of history of economic thought to the curriculum by visiting monetary theories of Karl Marx's Capital (1867) and John Maynard Keynes's A Treatise on Money (1930). The benefit of using these two sources is twofold. First, it is possible to find a common theory in both Marx and Keynes's writings to explain the baby-sitting co-op story. Second, it is possible to move beyond the story and introduce other aspects of a monetary economy such as endogenoity of money, industrial and financial circulation of money, etc. In addition, a graphical framework is developed as teaching aid.

A Reading on Money and Money Creation, Kevin Furey

A difficulty in teaching undergraduate courses from a non-orthodox perspective is the lack of written material to draw upon. This reading, written for an introductory macroeconomics course, is an attempt to fill a small part of that void by providing a discussion of money creation from an endogenous money perspective. By focusing on the ability of banks to engage in asset and liability management, the reading makes it easy for students to comprehend why investment is never constrained by a lack of saving. For those who are compelled to also present the orthodox perspective, the question is which view to discuss first. Based on readings in cognitive science, unveiling the non-orthodox material first will greatly increase the chances students will analyze social problems from a non-orthodox perspective. Consequently, this reading is designed to be the student's first encounter with the subject of money and money creation. Orthodox textbooks usually omit from their balance sheets the two items that allow banks to make loans without excess reserves. By presenting the non-orthodox view first, students easily see the problems with the orthodox money multiplier approach.

Teaching Microeconomics

Minimum Wages and Economic Justice: A Classroom Exercise, Aaron Pacitti & W. Scott Trees

This paper presents a classroom exercise for an introductory economics course that allows students to discover the economic and social impacts of working for minimum wages. Students are asked to estimate a budget necessary for both a desirable and sustainable standard of living for those earning a minimum wage income. By engaging in active learning on topics such as economic justice, normative economic policy, living wages, and non-material needs, the exercise is an effective vehicle for integrating social economics into a principles course; and offers an opportunity to augment traditional economic pedagogy. Extensions, variations, and a suggested assessment tool for the exercise are also provided.

But That Is Unfair Professor: Using a Grade Structure to Help Students Understand Income Quintiles, Timothy Wunder

Economic instructors exploring issues of income disparities will often be facing students who are apathetic towards the topic. Although income disparities have grown in the US, the university experience is still overwhelmingly dominated by students coming from middle and upper class families who will rarely have personal experiences with poverty which may be part of the reason why so many students lack interest. By suggesting that a flat uniform grade distribution system will be used in the class, students often become frightened by the inevitable outcome that a large percent of the class will automatically receive low grades. This emotional reaction can then be used as an anchoring point for students to recognize the inevitability of poverty with respect to capitalist systems. This method almost always provokes heated and interesting classroom conversations and forces many students to rethink the issue of income inequality in the US.

Gender/Social Construction of Knowledge

Teaching Feminist Economics through Student-Written Diaries, Genna R. Miller

As a heterodox, economics paradigm, feminist economics seeks to improve women’s economic status and reduce the androcentric bias in economics. Thus, teaching feminist economics involves teaching students different ways of analyzing social inequalities and how to access more emotionally connected aspects of human behavior. This article argues that using student-written ‘gender diaries’ serves as an important pedagogical device for teaching feminist economics, because diaries enable students to more fully consider social inequalities and critique the masculine-centered features of neoclassical economics. Furthermore, when the diary approach is used in tandem with traditional lectures, this may serve to challenge gendered pedagogical dualisms which pose lectures and diaries in gendered oppositions to one another rather than envisioning them as complementary human ways of teaching. A case-study is presented from a “Women in the Economy” course in which students kept a gender diary. An analysis of a survey of the students indicates that the majority of students found the diary to be both a pleasurable and useful pedagogical device, and recommended continued use of the diary specifically for this course. Students were less enthusiastic in recommending the diary for use in other economics courses.

Examining the Unique Characteristics of Economics: A Description of a Student Assignment, Elizabeth Moorhouse

This article discusses a classroom activity which introduces students to the knowledge creation process in the field of economics. Although the assignment was used in an upper level history of economic thought class, it could be tailored to fit almost any broadly themed course in the field. Economics is a discipline that faithfully adheres to a particular approach—one based on self-interest and contractual exchange; ideas that deviate from this approach are often overlooked by economists or deemed outside the discipline. Likewise, arguments made without the use of core assumptions or mathematical models are screened out as not truly being economics. Due to this allegiance to a specific form of argument, economics has developed unique characteristics. The class activity asks students to think about the implications of these characteristics and identity economic models and theories that exemplify them.

Student Evalutions and Heterodox Teaching

Student Evaluations, Grade Inflation and Pluralistic Teaching: Moving from Customer Satisfaction to Student Learning and Critical Thinking, Geoff Schneider

Faculty at universities that place significant weight on student evaluations often report that they give out easy grades, avoid controversial material and dumb down courses in order to get higher student evaluations. Unfortunately, research on student learning indicates that challenging courses, especially those that challenge students' existing mental models, facilitate greater learning. Meanwhile, research on student evaluations indicates that grading more easily and teaching easier courses has, at best, a small impact on student evaluations. Thus, ironically, faculty perceptions about student evaluations are more problematic than student evaluations themselves. In order to improve the quality of teaching, it is important for universities to develop a system for evaluating teaching that emphasizes (and rewards) the degree of challenge and learning that occurs in courses. This can be achieved by altering student evaluation forms to emphasize the amount students learn and the amount of work they do in a course. Additional possibilities include the development of a more robust system of peer evaluation of teaching and of teaching materials. Given that heterodox economists teaching pluralistic material tend to challenge the status quo, it is particularly important for an evaluation system to reward teaching that challenges students' perceptions of the world. Otherwise heterodox teachers will not be evaluated fairly.