Economics for (and by) 10th Graders


It’s a well-documented truth that many Americans are financially and economically illiterate – a handicap that some believe contributed to the recent financial crisis.? A 2008 paper by?Annamaria Lusardi, Olivia S. Mitchell and Vilsa Curto found that “[F]ewer than one-third of young adults possess basic knowledge of interest rates, inflation, and risk diversification.”?While experts disagree on the effectiveness of financial education, it seems likely that teaching economics at the middle- and high-school levels are a pretty good idea.

Enter Dan Wise, a humanities teacher at the San Diego charter school High Tech High.?The school, to which admission is determined by a Zip code-based lottery, follows an integrated, project-based learning model, and boasts an impressive college admissions record among its graduates, 35% of whom are “first-generation college students.”

High Tech High’s teachers are told to “teach their passions.”? In Wise’s case, the result of this mantra is Economics Illustrated, a student-produced primer on the kind of basic economic concepts adults and kids alike should understand.

Wise taught his 10th grade students basic economics in class and then divided them into small study groups, where they read a variety of?pop-econ books. He then?assigned each student a specific topic based on their declared interests.? Each student was responsible for producing two pages of the final product, “with the first page defining the economic term and providing examples, and the second page exploring, through an original article, how the term can inform one’s understanding of a current event.”? Students also produced visual examples of their concepts, in conjunction with the school’s art teacher.

The final result is chock full of important economics lessons.? One student wrote about “warm glow preferences,” using volunteers in Haiti as an example: “Many American citizens help, and they aren’t getting anything out of it except the feeling of generosity.” Another student explained the effects of loss aversion on the housing market. Classic topics like externalities, free-riding, expressed vs. revealed preferences, and regression analysis (look for Eric Morris and Emily Oster examples!) are also covered in the book.

For good measure, Wise added one final component to student’s grades:

“It was important to me that the students’ work was intelligible to their peers, so, as a final component, I asked each student to deliver a lesson on his or her term, with the accompanying pages serving as a handout. As a final lesson in incentives, each student’s grade was partially determined by how well his or her peers performed when quizzed on the student’s term.”

Not bad for 10th graders.

Leave A Comment

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.



View All Comments »
  1. Bobby G says:

    Kind of a cool article, something I would have enjoyed had I taken that class in high school.

    I do have to say though, that in your first paragraph I’d say the “handicap” was what got Obama elected… Sorry couldn’t resist (really though his economic policies are disgusting).

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  2. Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team says:

    We are a Capitalist Society, the Greatest Entrepreneurs in the History of the World, Yet only 2% of the population owns a business where they actually employ one employee in additional to themselves. If we could get 1% more interested in owning and operating a business, that would be a 50% increase in business entrepreneurship.

    It is hot. Where are the children’s Lemonade Stands of yesterday? Kids need to venture out into the world of business and commerce instead of playing Guitar Hero and watching TV.

    Make a Lemonade Stand that sells caffeinated products, cappechino, and homemade chocolate chip cookies. These are tax free and regulatory free business for minors. And it can be fun creating and imagining a successful business.

    We need entrepreneurs who venture risks more so than elite athletes and Phds in Lit.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  3. Jim Stapleton says:

    Unfortunately, no part of the American school system has been created or maintained with any kind of economic efficiency in mind. Life skills are not taught. Occupational skills are not taught. Skills that we use in everyday life (goal setting, negotiation, etc.) are not taught. Financial and economic skills are not taught. There’s no true financial incentive to be a great teacher, so great teaching is haphazard…if the teacher feels like it AND is capable of it AND is in an environment where it can happen, only THEN it gets done. The teacher unions actively discourage school choice or any other kind of economic incentive. So the likelihood of there being ANY economics taught in an environment where economics are antithetical is really nil.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  4. Jim F says:

    if only more teachers and education systems had this kind of passion, the world would be a much different place. Good for this teacher and school for thinking outside the box

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  5. Douglas Warren says:

    Why can’t all high school classes be taught this way?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  6. Jennifer says:

    I think this is absolutely great, I am currently a business admin. student and economics is a huge part of everything that I have studied so far. I was fortunate to have a civics and economics class and high school that was taught by a teacher who actually cared if we understood and retained the information. I have used the information that I learned in that class for so many different things, it’s hard to think that it is not mandated across the U.S. I think if more students truly understood economics and how it works our nation would be in a better situation. Hat’s off to this teacher and the students who participated in the class. Maybe some other teachers will take note and start focusing more on economics as well!

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  7. Ghost says:

    Americans are not financially and economically illiterate.
    We are mathematically illiterate.
    We are grammatically illiterate.
    We are just plain illiterate, from start to finish.
    But, hey, we have Lady Gaga and we seem to be proud of it.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  8. J.P. Steele says:

    It is not a good thing to inflict this curious form of economics on children before they have the background and context to be able to decide for themselves the veracity of the claims. As is, our dear discipline is a dumping ground of stale dogmas and an ideology of possessive individualism. Give the kids a break.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0