Beliefs about teaching economics

1.) I often hear teachers and teacher educators comment that they do not know economics. Some may contend that the children they teach don’t, either. I say they’re wrong. Everybody knows economics. We live it and we learn it as we live it. Are kids choosing between 2 options for lunch? They’re doing economics. Are kids practicing a sport or cheering on teammates? They’re doing economics. Are you passing out a snack? pencils? Are you asking students to share? Then you, teacher, are teaching economics.

2.) I believe in broad definitions. Economics is about resource allocation and management. Resources can be conceptualized broadly. Time, space, cookies, clean water, attention spans are all resources. The original Greek definition of economy meant “management of a household.” Now, economics refers to the discourse used to order the economy (Heinzelman, 1980). Thus, economics is not simply about managing money or making a budget (that’s personal finance which is a whole other problematic discourse). If we think about economics as the study of choices that are made about how things are allocated or distributed, then we can see that economics is all the time and everywhere.

3.) I agree with King and Finley (2015) that there is no economic literacy without racial literacy (p. 200). “What is needed” is “an economics compatible with the goal of eliminating unearned privileges and unjust power distributions”  and that considers resource allocation in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation (Pouncy, 2002a , p. 848).  This pertains to both the constitution and makeup of the discipline as well as its practices and initiatives (See Bayer and Rouse, 2016). We must question the extent to which the “scientific pretenses of the neoclassical paradigm,” which is what undergirds K-12 economics education, “attempt[s] to cloak distributive consequences in an aura of inevitability while disconnecting policy interventions from group and community consequences” (Pouncy, 2002b, p. 22).

4.) Econ ed needs to deal with environmental justice, acknowledging climate change and the allocation of externalities and byproducts. We always talk about productive resources and rarely about the unproductive resources they produce. Currently, “America is still segregated and so is pollution…race is the strongest variable in where facilities are located and in 2000 we found the same thing. People of color make up 57% of residents in a two-mile radius of hazardous facilities, and make up 60% of those people who live near two polluting facilities” (Milman, 2018). See the work of Robert Bullard, the “father of environmental justice.”

5.) Economics is not neutral. What we see today as “economics” is value-laden. It is made by people for people. Yet, it masquerades as neutral. As Bettie St. Pierre used to say “we forget we made it up.” Over time, we forget that what today is recognized as economic knowledge (that taught in K-12 + introductory economics courses) was codified in a particular time and place for specific ends that have everything to do with power and values. This is why it is important to study the history of economics.

Neoclassical theory has been incredibly successful in maintaining the neutrality ruse. Continual failures such as 2008 seem to only increase its real and discursive power and stranglehold over K-12 curriculum. According to Yanis Varioufakis (2012) this is because “neoclassicism rules out any systemic analysis of capitalism” (p. 15). Neoclassical theory has become just plain “economics.” The funny thing is, neoclassicism operates in opposition to its principles. It does not practice free trade (of ideas) in a marketplace (of ideas). Instead, it maintains a monopoly over curriculum by concealing alternative perspectives.

6.) Too often, economic discourse is used as a mechanism of control. People are blamed for their choices and conditioned to expect less. The line used in K-5 that “children must learn they cannot have everything they want” warrants unpacking. First, this makes it sound like everyone experiences scarcity equally. Can we say that the Jeff Bezoses of the world really cannot have everything they want? What about children from affluent families? Second, it then justifies lives of austerity and sacrifice. It’s a convenient way to tell us we cannot have both healthcare and retirement, for example. It’s a way to make us believe we must settle for less and that we must sacrifice for the economy. But, “ever notice how some people use the phrase shared sacrifice when somebody else will be doing all the sacrificing?” (Kelton, 2020, p. 180). We are constantly told there is not enough for everyone instead of considering how resources might be more equitably distributed.

In my work, I refuse to make children the “responsible and guilty party” as the State, capitalism and neoclassicism does (Lazzarato, 2015). In neoclassical economics, all people are presumably equal because all can economize and make (good) choices. But of course this isn’t what happens in practice. As Kerry Washington says to Reese Witherspoon in Little Fires Everywhere “you didn’t make good choices you had good choices.”

It is cruel to suggest that the economy, in its present state, is equal or just. When we do, children can internalize this discourse and blame themselves rather than the actual responsible party (Anderson, 2017).


Anderson, M.D. (27 July 2017). Why the myth of meritocracy hurts kids of color. The Atlantic

Bayer, A. & Rouse, C.E. (2016). Diversity in the Economics Profession: A New Attack on an Old Problem. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 30(4), 221-242.

Lazzarato, M. (2015). Governing by debt. MIT Press.

Milman, O. (20, December 2018). Robert Bullard: Environmental justice isn’t just slang it’s real. The Guardian.

Pouncy, C. R. P. (2002). Institutional economics and critical race/LatCrit theory: The need for a critical ‘raced’ economics. Rutgers Law Review, 54(4), 841–852.

Pouncy, C.R.P. (2002). Economic Justice and Economic Theory: Limiting the Reach of
Neoclassical Ideology. University of Florida Journal of Law and Public Policy, 14.

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