Cramer re-imagines economic learning

Amy Cramer poses on a bench at Pima Community College’s Desert Vista Campus before giving a presentation on her new Economics 150 course being offered this summer and fall. (Nick Meyers/Aztec Press)
Amy Cramer poses on a bench at Pima Community College’s Desert Vista Campus before giving a presentation on her new Economics 150 course being offered this summer and fall. (Nick Meyers/Aztec Press)


It’s debate day in Amy Cramer’s macroeconomic class.

One student tells an emotional story of an American family that suddenly became homeless when the automobile industry took a downturn.

Another points out how much more Americans end up paying for common food items due to tariffs. A third brings up a United States factory that collapsed in Bangladesh, killing more than 1,000 people.

The Pima Community College students all make convincing arguments on the topic of free trade, but from three perspectives.

“My mission is really to help create dialogue,” Cramer said. “The problem is that economics is generally taught from one perspective, so students don’t get to practice being open to talking to one another without getting angry.”

Cramer has been a full-time instructor at PCC since 2002, and is chair of the West Campus business department. She teaches students through her unique style of alternative perspectives.

For the most part, economics education in the U.S. lacks multiple perspectives, even at the collegiate level. Texas, one of 20 states that requires economics in the high school curriculum, mandates that the “free enterprise system and its benefits” must be taught.

“People believe that their way of thinking is the right one and exposing people to the wrong one is dangerous because they might be fooled into thinking it’s a reasonable way of proceeding,” Cramer said.

She disagrees.

“The thing is, it’s not going to make the debate go away by pretending it doesn’t exist in the classroom,” she said.

Cramer began her undergraduate education at Boston College. She didn’t find economics very interesting there, but became enthralled by the discussion and different points of view when she transferred to the University of Massachusetts.

She graduated in 1985 with a degree in Social Thought and Political Economics, then earned her master’s and doctorate in economics.

In her micro and macroeconomics courses, Cramer starts each semester by introducing her classes to Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes and Karl Marx to illuminate the conservative, liberal and radical positions.

Toward the end of the semester, the courses focus on specific, relevant economic issues.

During one of these class, Cramer alternates between perspectives. She takes turns wearing the hat of each one, arguing passionately and explaining why that view is the right one. She never tells the students which position is her own.

Ryan Valenzuela, 20, and Dustin Sorce, 35, both took micro and macroeconomics with Cramer. They mention the debates and Cramer’s passion as the most influential and memorable part of their classes.

Sorce is now minoring in economics due to his classes with Cramer.

“My position didn’t change but it gave me a better understanding about the other positions, helping solidify my original perspective with a better, fuller understanding,” he said.

Not everyone over the years has supported Cramer’s approach, and many students have been confused or critical of including the radical perspective. Cramer said the appearance of Bernie Sanders in mainstream politics has made people a little more understanding.

“Sanders is basically legitimizing what I’ve been doing,” she said. “It used to be when I was first teaching, people would be asking ‘Why give a radical perspective?’ When Occupy Wall Street came along, people understood, and now with Sanders people understand.”

Although Sanders is a liberal politician and might have a different analysis than a pure radical perspective, Cramer says he advocates for some of the same outcomes, such as free education and single-payer health care.

Cramer started a nonprofit in 2009, now called Voices on the Economy.

Part of the VOTE program is a new course at PCC called Economics 150 that will focus on exploring current issues from alternative perspectives. The goal is to partner with a four-year institution to offer the class as a massive open online course—a free college course available to the public.

Starting this fall the class will be offered in an optional honors format, with students going out into the community to lead discussions.

A website is also in the works. Her hope is that famous proponents of each issue will be featured, perhaps with a video, a comedy act or a political cartoon. In this vision, Paul Krugman, Richard Wolff and Thomas Sowell will come to her, wanting to contribute.

“It’s kind of a funny revolution of just trying to say ‘Can we have different perspectives of this and have a venue for people to talk in a respectful way?’” Cramer said. “Just to have a safe place to explore. That’s what all these components are supposed to be.”









Thurs. 6-8:40 p.m.


One thought on “Cramer re-imagines economic learning”



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *