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Some brief syllabus advice for the young economist

Some Brief Syllabus Advice for the Young Economist
Emily Chamlee-Wright
Provost and Dean of the College
Washington College
Joshua C. Hall
Associate Professor of Economics
Department of Economics
West Virginia University
We touch on three major pieces of syllabus language that we think can
help young economists manage their economics classes in a liberal arts
environment. Like the writing of a constitution, it is not enough to just
copy the words on the page in order for them to be effective. Instead they
must fit the “facts on the ground” and the day-to-day experiences of
students. If the syllabus talks about valuing everyone’s time and yet the
classroom experience does not reflect that, the syllabus language is
useless. Like constitutions, however, syllabi are useful as a starting point
for nurturing a mental model of the rigorous economics inquiry and
Keywords: advice, liberal arts, classroom management
JEL Codes: A10, A22
Some Brief Syllabus Advice for the Young Economist
In the field of economic education there are numerous articles on how to teach economics
more effectively. For example, edited volumes Becker and Watts (2000), Becker et al.
(2007) and Mixon and Cebula (2009) brim with advice on how economists might
improve what they are doing in the classroom. These volumes and the economic
education journals are filled with articles on how to teach specific courses differently
(e.g., Hartley 2001, Coyne and Leeson 2011, and Chamlee-Wright 2011), how to
incorporate popular culture (Hall 2007), film clips (Mateer and Stephenson 2011), and
even how to use taste tests to teach about protectionism (Powell 2007). To our
knowledge, however, there are no articles specifically geared towards economists about
syllabus design outside of specific discussion of readings.
This is puzzling given the vast literature aimed at helping the young economist succeed in
the Academy. For example, Thomson (2001) is widely read by graduate students in order
to become acculturated to the profession. Similarly, Hamermesh (1992) provides advice
to the young economist on professional etiquette that can be generally viewed as good
career advice. There also exists advice for specific sub-groups within economics, from
women (Hamermesh 2005), individuals looking for teaching positions (Owens 2008), and
even Austrian economists interested in liberal arts college jobs (Horwitz 2011). While
this advice benefits young economists by getting them to be thoughtful about their
teaching, research, and interactions with fellow economists, it is a bit surprising that none
of this literature touches at all on the classroom syllabus and the policies laid out therein.
In our opinion, this gap represents an important oversight. Many young economists
become bogged down in the first few years of teaching because they have not had the
time nor experience to think about how best to structure their syllabus. By “syllabus
structure” we do not mean which readings are assigned when, or what textbook will be
used, or whether to emphasize lecture or discussion. Instead we are concerned about how
exactly a faculty members expectations for the class get expressed to students through
the syllabus. In our experience, young faculty members often encounter trouble because
of differences between their expectations and those of the students. The most obvious
case of this is with respect to grading, but teaching is filled with other examples such as
availability for consultation outside of class, participation criteria, and so on. Confusing
or incomplete expectations in the syllabus inhibits the development of student agency and
responsibility in the classroom itself.
What follows is a discussion of syllabus language that touches on three different areas of
expectation management: managing out-of-class time, leading effective classroom
discussion, and setting and maintaining grading expectations. While we are largely in
agreement about these three points, the language and discussion in the first two come
primarily from Emily Chamlee-Wright’s experience and the latter from Joshua Hall. As
we point out later in the article, much of what we discuss here has come to us from a
variety of different sources and influences. Thus we do not claim that these practices are
unique or originated with us. At the same time, we hope that by discussing them in this
format more economists, particularly young economists setting out on their careers, will
be exposed to and benefit from these elements of syllabus design that foster better
expectation alignment.
Managing Your Time Outside of Class:
One of the perennial problems professors face is how to manage time with students
outside of class time. This issue is particularly pressing for faculty in small liberal arts
colleges where the expectation is that faculty will remain accessible to and develop close
mentoring relationships with their students. Regular and posted office hours have
become a sacred cow in such institutions. The assumption is that by maintaining regular
office hours, students will know when they can find their professors and their professors
will be accessible and eager to receive students during these appointed times. Experience
suggests, however, that the exact opposite is true.
First, most faculty choose office hours that are spaced apart in such a manner that they
complement their teaching schedule. So if the faculty member has no classes on
Monday-Wednesday-Friday from 10:00-11:00, this may look like an ideal time to hold
office hours. But this time is likely to overlap with courses that students are taking,
making it impossible for them to come during this particular time slot. They thus default
to the “or by appointment” option, to which I turn in a moment. Non-course time slots in
the weekly scheduleat Beloit College, where I taught for 19 years, there are no courses
offered between 4:00-7:00—are no more helpful, as such times are cordoned off for co-
curricular activities. In short, students are busy. No particular time slot, even if the
number of hours is generous, is likely to work for the majority of advisees and students in
one’s classes.
Second, when office hours don’t get used, faculty tend to rely on that time as prep time,
grading time, or finishing that article to meet the deadline time. The unfortunate student
who actually avails him or herself of the option to utilize the designated office hours is
likely to encounter a professor who is now stressed out by they fact that she no longer has
the time she had grown accustomed to using for other purposes. In short, the notion that
faculty are eagerly awaiting students’ arrival during their office hours is a myth. Smart
busy people find productive ways to fill that time when it is not used regularly. Smart
busy people come to rely on that space in their day, and they are not likely to be focused
on the student before them if their work plan has been interrupted.
Thinking this through has led me to adopt a “meetings by appointment only” policy. I
have the one-line version of this policy posted on my door, but in my economics courses
I use the following parable to explain my policy. Even though it takes up an inordinate
amount of real estate on my syllabus, I figure that the real estate is cheap and the
economic lesson it conveys is valuable.
Office Hours (a story of social coordination through the ages): Once upon a
time, office hours were the low cost way of solving a coordination problem:
Student needs to talk to Professor; Student stops by Professor’s Office. Alas,
Professor has gone to think Deep Thoughts somewhere other than The Office.
Student leaves frustrated. Then, someone invents the “Office Hour,” a stretch of
time in which Professor commits to thinking Deep Thoughts in The Office,
ready to receive the company of any Student who comes by. Coordination
problem solved! But, Professor notices a consistent and abhorrent waste of our
most precious resource: Time. Professor observes that frequently Students do
not use the appointed Office Hours, thus unnecessarily confining Deep Thinking
to The Office when Professor is sure that much Deeper Thinking could be done
over a latte (vente, non-fat please) in the café. At other times, say, just before a
midterm exam, Professor notices a multitude of Students lined up (wasting their
Time) outside Professor’s door, all competing for what is now an all too scarce
slice of Office Hour. The ubiquity of the telephone was an improvement
(“Professor, may I schedule an appointment at 2:00 on Tuesday?”) but still
required Professor to be in the office to receive Student’s telephone call. The
dawn of the answering machine helped, but Student frequently failed to leave a
number or, when call was returned, Roommate never gave Student the message
from Professor that, “no, 2:00 will not work, but how about 7:00 am? Bring
coffee please.” Just when Professor was ready to give in to the barbaric waste of
Time, some wise and gentle soul invented Email. With Email, Student could
send Note: “Would love to meet with you this week. I am free on Thursday
between 2:00 and 4:00,” to which Professor responds, “That would be lovely. If
you like, we can meet over lattes at 2:00.” How civilized! No wasted hours
trapped amongst the dusty old books, when a walk to fetch a caffeinated
beverage would surely dredge up those Deep Thoughts from the dark recesses of
the mind. No wasted time waiting in lines outside Professor’s door. Ah, the
emancipating power of Email and the phrase, “Meetings can be arranged by
By the way, Tuesdays and Thursdays are the best days to arrange an
appointment with me. When requesting an appointment, please suggest several
times that can work with your schedule.
As I suggest above, one of the critical benefits this policy conveys, at least in my
experience, is that I feel prepared to receive the student who has made an appointment to
see me at 2:00 on Thursday afternoon. At ten minutes before the hour my Google
Calendar reminder pops up with “2:00 Meeting with Amanda RE: Senior thesis.” I search
for my last email exchange with Amanda, quickly remind myself of the thesis she is
attempting to pursue and the issues she was facing in the last draft. This takes, at most,
five minutes. When Amanda arrives, I am mentally prepared and collegially receptive.
With this system, no student ever feels like they have interrupted me or thrown me off
my plans for the day.
The “meetings by appointment only” policy offers one further benefit in that it sets
appropriate expectations for professional life. Once students graduate, when and where
will they ever again face the “regular office hours regime”? I dare say, never. I doubt
seriously that on his first day of work Young Graduate will hear his new boss say,
“Young Graduate, I will set aside 2:00-4:00 every Tuesday and Thursday for you to come
see me, or not, as you see fit. Don’t bother making an appointment. You can rest assured
that I will be there waiting for you.” Preparing students to meet expectations beyond the
college environment is one of the most important things we do as educators, and the
office hour regime runs counter to this purpose. In professional life, we make (and keep)
appointments. There is no good reason not to establish this practice in the college years.
I should offer this note of caution. I instituted this policy as a tenured full professor at
Beloit College, knowingly violating Beloit’s Administrative Policy Manual. Silly rules
are easy to make fun of and ignore as a senior member of the faculty, but my junior
colleagues would often say, “your approach sounds like such a smart way to manage time
with students, but I don’t want this to come back and haunt me in my tenure review.” I
like to think that at Beloit faculty and administrative colleagues would never hold a
niggling policy violation against someone in their review so long as they were living up
to the intended spirit of the rule. Yet I understand my junior colleagues’ concerns. And
in another institution, one that does not value common sense as much as my Beloit
colleagues do, there may be very good reasons to be concerned. Thus, before instituting
such a practice, junior faculty would be wise to seek official sanction from a department
chair or appropriate administrative supervisor. One might propose this as an experiment
that can inform future debate on the subject. Any innovative chair or dean ought to
welcome fresh ideas and faculty experimentation that can improve faculty-student
Developing Intellectual Agency through Formal Class Discussion
I love to lecture. And I particularly prize the pedagogical value of a well-crafted lecture.
That said, even the best lectureseven those that are appropriately interactive and
engaging—can leave many students with the sense that their primary job is simply to
absorb what the professor has said. In order to reinforce the point that students are
expected to be active contributors in the production of new knowledge, I have always
integrated discussions of primary texts into my courses. I do this at the introductory level
and increase the emphasis on discussion in courses taught later in the curriculum,
culminating in a senior seminar course that is almost entirely focused on discussion and
development of original research.
Anyone who practices class discussion on a regular basis is familiar with the common
frustrations: passive students who never say anything, students who dominate the
discussion and crowd out more reluctant students; discussions that go off track; the
difficulties of knowing how to grade student contribution in discussions, and so on. The
framework for formal discussions I offer below is not a panacea, but it goes a long way
toward addressing some of these common frustrations. Most importantly, the rules of
formal discussion I deploy foster the expectation that students will contribute to (not
merely absorb) the body of knowledge that informs the field of inquiry we are studying.
Let me begin with a disclaimer that I have not come up with these rules on my own.
Shamelessly, I have adapted them from Liberty Fund seminar rules. They are described
below, as I describe them to my students.
Formal Discussion Rules:
Discussions will begin promptly at the start of class and run (without break) for
90 minutes. Please come on time and prepared to sit for that length of time. If
you do need to step out, try to do so quietly.
Chairs and tables will be arranged in a rectangle in advance. (If you arrive early
and the chairs are not arranged this way, please help by making the appropriate
adjustments.) Students will be assigned specific seats with the placement of
nameplates. Nameplates are used to encourage mutual reference between
discussion participants, e.g., “I want to respond to something John said
The discussion will begin with the Discussion Leader (that’s me) highlighting
some points within the reading and posing questions to which discussion
participants might wish to respond. These questions will be posted on the
course website in advance. My introductory remarks should take no more than
10-15 minutes, leaving the balance of the discussion time for discussion
participants to respond to my queries, present your own questions, and respond
to other discussion participants. This means that you are duty-bound to come
prepared, with the text read very carefully, with notes and/or questions written
down so that you can contribute to a lively and engaged discussion.
After I finish my introductory remarks, the “queue” is then opened for
participants to respond and/or pose their own questions. You may indicate your
interest in making a comment by raising your hand upward. If, while another
discussion participant is speaking you decide that you would like to make your
own points, you should “catch my eye” by raising your hand quietly, and wait
for a silent nod indicating that you have been placed on the queue.
If discussion participants wish to make a very brief comment that pertains to
something that was just said, you can be put on the “brief comment” queue
which allows you to get your short point in right away before the conversation
moves too far beyond the specific issue being raised. Participants wishing to be
put on the short comment queue indicate this by putting their finger and thumb
together (as if to say, “this will be short, I promise.”) A position within the brief
comment queue does not eliminate a position in the main queue. This helps to
assure that brief comments remain brief and that participants will have time to
articulate their longer points when their turn in the long comment queue comes
The Discussion Leader may participate in both queues, but she will have to
abide by the same rules as everyone else (i.e., I have to wait my turn just like
everyone else). The Discussion Leader does however reserve the right to
change the order of the queue toward the end of the discussion time to make
sure that everyone who wants to speak gets the chance. The Discussion Leader
also reserves the right to cut short comments that go on too long and to take
other appropriate measures necessary to maintaining order and decorum.
Mutual respect is an absolute in these discussions. That said, one can be
respectful while still engaging in lively argument. Striking this balance is the
key to a successful discussion and is the responsibility of everyone at the table.
Each discussion day, students will earn 0 to 10 points. A score of “0” is
attributed to those who do not attend on the designated discussion day and time.
A score of “2” is attributed to those who attend but appear inattentive or
disengaged from the discussion. A score of “5” is attributed to those who
attend, do not say anything, but who appear to be engaged and are focused on
the conversation. (Now, I know what you are thinking. “How does she know
whether I am engaged or disengaged? She cannot read my thoughts!” True
enough. But I can tell whether you appear to be engaged—or not— and this
makes a difference. A student who appears to be disengaged creates a negative
externality that causes the slow death of what might otherwise have been a
lively discussion. Students who appear to be engaged, even if they are silent,
encourage others to continue their active participation, hence the 5 points.) The
student who speaks up a few times during the course of the discussion earns 7
points. The student who offers frequent thoughtful commentary, connects their
comments to the comments of others, sparks debate, etc., earns 10 points. While
it is perfectly acceptable to not speak on any given discussion day, consecutive
discussion days with no active participation earn successively lower scores.
Weekly grades will be posted, using a system of anonymous codes, on the
course website.
I have used this formal discussion methodology for the past six years or so. There
are some costs. At first, students can greet the formal rules with reluctance. “In my
other classes, I get to chime in whenever I want,” say some students. Yet the
corresponding benefit is that for these students, the queue acts as a governor, giving
them space but not at the expense of other more reluctant students.
The rules do not completely solve the problem that some students won’t contribute
much to the discussion. The formal grading process, however, does provide an
incentive to at least try, and if a reluctant student weighs in with even two brief
comments in a given discussion, the posted grades for the week gives them
immediate feedback that such contributions make a difference. Most importantly,
the rules make it perfectly clear that it is the student’s responsibility to enter into the
discussion. The professor does not pick and choose a single student out of a sea of
raised hands. If a student raises her hand, she gets a spot on the queue. That is all
that is required. Their discussion grade is entirely in their control.
One of the things students don’t like when they first encounter these rules is that the
discussion often ebbs and flows between and across different discussion topics raised
within a given reading. The queue dictates what is said next. This means that one
topic may get abandoned (temporarily) as the next person on the queue raises a
different point, only to be brought back up again by a student further down in the
queue. A few weeks with the rules, however, give students an opportunity to
experience what I call the “Liberty Fund Rules (LFR) Magic”. The LFR Magic is
the phenomenon whereby a discussion that at first appears to be scattered across and
jumping between disparate themes, at some point, begins to cohere. Forced to listen
to their fellow discussion participants while they wait for their spot on the queue,
students often discover and describe connections between readings or ideas or topics
that they didn’t see on their own. As the course proceeds through the semester, this
thematic looping can happen between topics addressed across the entire term,
lending coherence to the course as a whole.
While I am an enthusiastic advocate of these formal rules, I wish to offer the
following words of advice:
In order for the rules to work, the discussion leader must keep a strict
discipline in managing the queue. The instructor should not be tempted to
bypass one student for another (except to favor a quiet student toward the
very end of the session). Students will notice and the instructor will lose
legitimacy as a discussion leader if she breaks with the discipline of the
The formal discussion rules will only work if they are practiced regularly (so
students can gain confidence operating within the rules) and consistently.
Introducing two or more different rule structures in the same course will be
confusing and the more formal process will meet with greater resistance.
The discussion leader should never violate the rules to get his or her point in
first. I often will put myself on the queue only hear another discussion
participant make my point before I have the opportunity to do so. In such
cases, I quietly count this as a “win” on my mental scorecard and cross my
name off the list.
A neat circular or rectangular table arrangement and the name templates are
essential components in building a learning community. If students do not
face one another and do not know one another’s names, they will direct their
commentary to the professor rather than to each other. The discussion leader
should make sure that the nameplates are printed on a high quality cardstock;
that everyone’s name is spelled correctly; replace the nameplates if they get
damaged; and bring the nameplates to and collect them after each discussion.
This may sound a bit obsessive. But I believe that the precise table
placement and the nameplates have a kind of ritual effect, transforming a
regular classroom into a wonderfully special place in which students become
the co-creators of their own intellectual emancipation.
Successfully Framing Grading Standards
Often students are upset about grading because they feel they have earned an A. Grade
inflation is a real problem in higher education. In small departments (like at most liberal
arts colleges), grade inflation can be especially problematic as students are advanced onto
future classes for which they are unprepared. Thus grade inflation in earlier classes
produces negative spillovers onto faculty downstream in the form of unprepared students
or students unwilling to accept appropriate grading standards. Over time, concern over
grades can often result in even the hardest grader easing up.
At our institution we have written grading standards in our Academic Policy Manual
(APM). In order to mentally prepare students for my relatively “tough” grading, I copy
these standards directly from our APM into my syllabus. I also include a little joke that
highlights the fact that, while I am not curving to meet that standard, students should not
expect to come out of the class with everybody earning As and Bs.
Here is the language in the Section titled “Grading Philosophy” as it recently appeared in
my syllabi:
Grading Philosophy
I have no pre-set grade distribution in mind. Note, however, that Section
IX of the Beloit College Academic Policy Manual (APM) clearly
discusses the definitions of specific grades (see According to the APM, grades of A are for
“credit earned in a manner that demonstrates unusual ability and
distinctive achievement.” B grades are for “credit earned in a manner that
demonstrates articulate, above-average performance” and C grades are for
“credit earned in a manner that demonstrates satisfactory performance.”
I note this language for two reasons. First, I want to highlight that a C is
not a failing grade. It is, by definition, satisfactory performance. Unless
your class is Lake Wobegon (“where everyone is above average”), several
of you might find yourselves in and around that range. This grade merely
reflects that while your work is satisfactory, you need further work on
certain concepts, skills, or capabilities. Second, it is important to note that
A’s are rewarded for exceptional performance. Any questions regarding a
particular grade must be made with reference to why your performance
was mischaracterized.
This can be thought of as the beginning of properly framing grading standards in a
classroom. The above is insufficient in that many students have little idea what “above-
averageor “exceptional” performance might entail. Unlike a 100-yard dash where
students can easily know how much slower they are than Usain Bolt, students often do
not have a good idea of other student’s performance in written assignments or non-
multiple choice exams. Thus it is hard to demonstrate to students how their efforts fail to
meet a classroom standard.
In order to provide a student with a standard that helps to frame the professor’s grade
expectations, I often use anonymous student answers as the answer key. That way a
student can directly see how their work stacks up to their peers. While this requires a
little more work than other approaches, it has at least two benefits. First, I do not have to
come up with an answer key directly. Second, students can see first-hand the anonymous
answers of their peers. For many college students, this is the first time they are directly
confronted with strong evidence that they are not working as hard or not doing as high
quality work as their classmates. In my experience this approach (and the conversations
that the approach creates the space for) engenders the proper response in many students.
For some students the proper response might be accepting their C grade, while for others
it means stepping up their effort in order to obtain a higher grade. The key advantage is
that the focus is off the faculty member for giving unfair grades and back on the student
for failure to meet classroom standards.
Here is an example of the language I use in my syllabus to describe my grading approach
for a take-home final exam in an upper level elective course in economics:
The final exam will be delivered to you by Sunday, April 29th and will be
due by noon on Saturday, May 5. As with the midterm, I ask that it be
emailed to me as well as delivered to me via hard copy to my office.
I ask for them in both forms so I can provide an answer key and in order to
employ my grading approach (see below). For each exam you will be
given a list of n questions, from which you will have to answer n-1
questions. You will typically have a week to work on these exams. The
recipe for success on the exams therefore is to pay good attention in class
and take good notes, so that you will be able to come up with appropriate
answers fairly quickly. Class lectures are generally not sufficient
background for doing well on the questions, however, thus you need to
revisit and employ the underlying readings in your answers.
My grading standard for these questions is not the answer I would give.
You do not want to be held to that standard. Instead, the standard is a
relative one. In my opinion, being “correct” is only sufficient to get you to
80 percent. Some correct answers are better than others because they are:
1) better written, 2) more nuanced, 3) incorporate relevant outside
material, 4) clearly synthesize the relationship among readings, 5) etc.
Thus in grading, I read all of the answers to one question, checking to see
if they are correct and looking for the “best” answer. The “best” answer
receives 100 percent of the value for that question and becomes the
standard by which the other answers are judged. It is possible to have
other answers be so close that they also receive perfect grades, but this
only happens occasionally. All other correct answers will then be placed
somewhere on the 100 to 80 percent continuum, depending on the quality
of the answer. This process is then repeated for each question on the exam.
Each exam is worth 25 percentage points of your final grade.
In my experience, this approach has led to a separating equilibrium. The competitive
students (not always the best students) work really hard to try to get the “best” grade on a
particular question. In order to do so, they have to go back to the original readings and
engage with those texts as well as the secondary literature. The “best” answers will often
draw on numerous relevant papers that we did not have time to cover in class. From my
perspective this is a great outcome because I can tell it stimulated a tremendous amount
of out-of-class effort and learning.
The second group can be thought of as satisficers. These students do the bare minimum
necessary to make their answers correct in order to get the B- they want. The only time I
have difficulty is when a person thinks they are being competitive but is actually a
satisficer, but that situation is quickly resolved when they are confronted with the “best”
answers and I ask them how their answers are comparable.
Concluding Remarks
Here we have touched on three major pieces of syllabus language that we think can help
young economists in thinking through how they want to manage their economics classes.
Like the writing of a constitution, it is not enough to just copy the words on the page in
order for them to be effective. Instead they must fit the “facts on the ground” and the day-
to-day experiences of students. If the syllabus talks about valuing everyone’s time and yet
the classroom experience does not reflect that, the syllabus language is useless. Like
constitutions (Wenzel, 2010) however, syllabi are useful as a starting point for nurturing
a mental model of the rigorous economics inquiry and discourse.
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Full-text available
This paper describes my use of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged in an undergraduate comparative systems course. I argue that the novel is the ideal vehicle for cultivating the "economic imagination," i.e., the ability to see the systematic outcomes that emerge under different political economic rules of the game. I argue that the novel is particularly well-suited to animate discussions of essential comparative systems topics, including Marxism, phenomena associated with the soviet-type economy, and fascism. Finally, drawing upon student writing, I argue that the tensions between Rand's epistemology and Austrian economics are productive in conveying Austrian insights regarding the extended order.
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Liberal arts colleges have recently become a popular home for modern Austrian economists, with several schools hosting more than one Austrian and beginning to develop programs for students. I explore the possible reasons for this congenial relationship, dividing the explanations into two areas: the learning goals of liberal arts college match the interests and comparative advantage of Austrians and the emphasis on teaching matches with the strong teaching skills of Austrians. I also note that the argument presented can be generalized to a significant degree to other economists with similar interests and skills.
“Expanding Teaching and Learning Horizons in Economic Education” offers 17 richly unique and interesting essays covering many of the subjects that are currently being examined in academic journals of this genre. Divided into three sections - research, pedagogy and information about the economic education profession - this volume offers insights on current debates over economic literacy, standardized test performance, the impact of gender, class attendance and homework policies on course performance and classroom cheating. Also recognizing interest in the use of literature, sports, and popular culture to enhance classroom presentation of economics, this volume offers a number of chapters dealing with the use of books, motion pictures, professional sports and television cartoons to capture students’ interests in economics. In providing these essays, this book brings together several notable scholars in the field of economic education, including William B. Walstad of the University of Nebraska, associate editor of the Journal of Economic Education, G. Dirk Mateer of Pennsylvania State University, author of Economics in the Movies, and Kim Marie McGoldrick of the University of Richmond, member of the editorial boards of The American Economist, Journal of Economic Education and the Journal of Economics & Finance Education. Complete with a Foreword by Rand W. Ressler, co-author of the popular economics text “Economics: Private Markets and Public Choice”, this volume brings the research and ideas of several of the leading scholars in economic education together in one place.
West V i r p a University Getting students to understand the economic way of thinking might be the most difficult aspect of a teaching economist's job. The counterintuitive nature of economics often makes it difficult to get the average student to think "like an economist." T o this end, the need to keep students engaged and interested is essential when teaching economic principles and interdisciplinaly approaches to engaging students are becoming increasingly common. For example, Leet and Houser (2003) build an entire principles class around classic films and documentaries while Watts (1 999) discusses how literary passages can be used to teach a typical undergraduate course more effectively. I further extend this interdisciplinary approach to economic education by providing examples from the long-running animated television show The Simpsons that can be used to stimulate student discussion and engagement in an introductory course in microeconomics. Using The Simpsons in the classroom The bulk of this paper describes scenes from The Simpsons that illustrate basic economic concepts. While the examples are pretty straightforward, the difficulty in using The Simpsons lies in deciding: where to place the examples into the lecture and the best way to present the scene to the students. " The author gratefully acknowledges the Lnancial support of The Buckeye Institute.
In recent years, there has been a trend away from "chalk and talk" toward alternative pedagogical approaches to teaching economics. One such approach is the use of film clips to illustrate economic concepts; this paper documents film clips that can be used to teach public choice economics.
This paper develops the concept of constitutional culture—the attitude, thoughts, and feelings about constitutional constraints and the nature, scope, and function of constitutionalism. Constitutional culture is approached as a complex emergent phenomenon bridging Hayekian cognitive and institutional insights. It can be studied as a mental model, a series of expectations and understandings about the constitutional order, how it is, and how it ought to be. The “map” and “model” approach from Hayek’s Sensory Order (1952) is employed to understand how individuals and (cautiously) groups of individuals at the national level approach constitutionalism. This paper goes beyond the more traditional one-size-fits-all approach where all individuals respond uniformly to incentives, as provided by the constitution qua contract. Instead, constitutionalism is tied up in the individual’s vision of the world, that is, what Hayek (1948) labels “the facts of the social sciences.” The paper concludes with four areas where constitutional culture can further the insights of constitutional political economy: comparative political economy, constitutional stickiness, constitutional maintenance, and the new development economics. KeywordsConstitutional culture-Mental models-Constitutional political economy-Constitutional maintenance-Informal institutions JEL ClassificationsB52-B53-F59-043-P48-Z13
The author describes an introductory economics course in which all of the reading material is drawn from the Great Books of Western Civilization. He explains the rationale and mechanics of the course. An annotated course syllabus details how the reading material relates to the lecture material.