Instructor rethinks economic education

By NICK MEYERS

There is an academic economic revolution taking place around the globe, and Pima Community College instructor Amy Cramer has taken up arms in support.

Cramer has been teaching economics at PCC for the past 12 years and taught for six years in the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management starting in 2005.

Now Cramer is taking her methods outside of her own classroom.

With the assistance of the Thomas R. Brown Foundation in Tucson, Cramer has created an initiative called Voices On The Economy.

VOTE aims to expand the teaching of alternate perspectives in high school and college classrooms around the state of Arizona and the United States.

“We have to arm our students with the different types of economic systems,” Cramer said. “All sorts of countries are trying to figure this out. So let’s give our students the power to figure it out.”

Over the course of the school year, teachers from high schools across Arizona will join Cramer as she explains her process to them through the same techniques she uses with students.

From June 18-22, high school teachers of subjects including history, economic and biology participated in Cramer’s method first-hand, taking part in describing each perspective and using them to debate modern topics.

“It’s kinda forcing me to think about my own opinions,” said Kelly O’Brien, a sixth and seventh grade history teacher from the Sonoran Science Academy.

O’Brien intends to use components of Cramer’s style to help teach her students about events in human history, such as the farming revolution that took place nearly 12,000 years ago.

“If they can relate to what they have now, they can better understand it,” she said.

In her classes, Cramer stresses the importance of considering alternative viewpoints in economics. In most modern economic classes, she said, students learn only neoclassical economics supported heavily by graphs and equations.

However, with many different economic systems existing around the world, Cramer sees importance in teaching students the perspectives that helped form modern economic systems.

She relies on Adam Smith, Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes, who are considered some of the major influences in modern economics, to describe how today’s various economic systems arose with a focus on neoclassical, classical and radical theory.

“These three perspectives are the theories that largely underlie our law and policies,” Cramer said in a video describing her methods. “Those alternative perspectives allow us to see further into the realm of economics.”

She uses these three distinct perspectives to stage classroom debates in which students discuss modern economic issues such as income inequality, the environment and anti-trust legislation.

“The learning process is enhanced when a student argues a perspective other than his or her own,” Cramer said in the video.

“Students in my classroom are assigned to take rotating perspectives in a series of debates so they get a chance to argue from each viewpoint.”

In this manner, Cramer intends to allow students to find their own voices in order to better understand and interact in today’s world.

“The goal is not to tell our students what to think,” Cramer said. “But to teach them how to think.”

Cramer’s program echoes the sentiment of students and educators alike across the globe. At the head of the charge is the International Student Initiative for Pluralism in Economics.

A group of more than 65 associations from 30 different countries, the student-led ISIPE pushes for use of a variety of theories, methods and disciplines, rather than simply neo-classical theory, in order to describe economics as a more complete social science.

“This lack of intellectual diversity does not only restrain education and research,” the organization explains in an open letter on its website. “It limits our ability to contend with the multidimensional challenges of the 21st century.”

“There are billions of people living in other countries that operate under economic systems other than our own,” Cramer said.

“In a global economic environment it is imperative that our students understand those other economic systems. What I do is invite you and invite our students to join the conversation.”

VOTE students

Instructor Amy Cramer observes as high school teacher Bill Craigs provides impassioned debate. (Nick Meyers/Aztec Press)

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