Many of our books, including this season’s The Can Man deal with economic concepts. We asked Yana V. Rodgers, a professor at Rutgers and head of the Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children, to talk about why and how to teach economics in today’s busy classrooms.
Building Blocks for the Future
Decades of research in economics, education, and early-childhood development have shown that young children enter the primary grades with an experience-based knowledge of economics and that they are quite capable of learning basic economics during the primary grades. The economic lessons that young students learn in their early education form the building blocks toward achieving a solid understanding of economics at higher levels of educational attainment. Students in the primary grades are already gaining a rich exposure to a wide variety of ideas in economics, and they are gaining the skills to apply this new knowledge. The principles taught at a level appropriate for primary-grade students are crucial for a basic understanding of the economic world around them.
Educational reforms since the 1960s have led to the development of formal content standards in economics and the infusion of economics as a central component of social studies curricula in every grade level. Because of the standards movement, even elementary school teachers face considerable pressure to teach economic content that is based on state requirements and is often linked to school accreditation and funding. Increasingly crowded curricula are a common issue, and many teachers feel they are too busy to teach economics. As almost all states have added economics to their state-mandated curricula in the primary grades, teaching strategies have needed to change.