Friday, March 03, 2006

Do teachers even get capitalism? 

You'd have to live under a rock not to have heard about this teacher in Colorado who went on a 20 minute rant about Bush, America, conservatives, etc. Michelle Malkin has details. Over at Generation Why?, there's a quote that pricked up my ears more than most:
"Do you see how when looking at [the teacher's definition of capitalism], where in this definition does it say anything about capitalism is an economic system that will provide everybody in the world with the basic needs that they need? ... Do you see how this economic system is at odds with humanity, at odds with caring and compassion, at odds with human rights?"
I have had long discussions with educators and economists who teach social science teacher candidates. There is no shortage of materials that teach about capitalism for high school students. And yet there remains a rather amazing amount of ignorance among teachers about economies. Jay Bennish isn't an exception; his crime and punishment come from not realizing someone was running a recording device. (Watch and see how quickly that hole is plugged!)

The corrective -- and I suppose you'd expect me to say this -- is more economics. An older paper by Allgood and Walstad shows that increasing economic education of teachers not only improves their economic literacy but also improves economic perspectives. Interestingly, student performance in high school economics after these teachers went through the Allgood and Walstad, in which they received up to three summer courses in economics, improved more if the teacher's economic attitudes aligned more with those of professional economists.

Teaching economics means teaching a method, not an outcome. This does not fit the behavior of many teachers, though. As Thomas Sowell once wrote,
Too many teachers, from the elementary schools to the graduate schools, see their role as indoctrinating students with what these teachers regard as the right beliefs and opinions. Usually that means the left's beliefs and opinions.

The merits or demerits of those ideas is far less important than whether or not students learn to analyze and weigh those merits and demerits. Educators used to say, "We are here to teach you how to think, not what to think."

...There are students in our most prestigious law schools who have never heard arguments for the social importance of property rights -- not just for those fortunate enough to own property, but for those who don't own a square inch of real estate or a single share of stock. How they would view the issues if they did is a moot point because they have heard only one side of the issue.

People who go through life never having heard the other side of issues ranging from environmentalism to minimum wage laws are nevertheless emboldened to lash out in ignorance at anyone who disturbs their vision of the world. The self-confident moral preening of ignoramuses is perhaps an inevitable product of the promotion of "self-esteem" in our schools.

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