How do I teach economics myself

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In order to improve the economic education of the students, many federal states are introducing the subject “economics”. Whether that's a good thing depends on the type of teaching, says business ethicist Thomas Beschorner.


For a long time the call for greater consideration of economic education echoed through the German school landscape. Schoolchildren knew too little about economics, so complained - supported by studies - especially guild representatives. For some time now, education policy has started to take this into account. In Bavaria and Thuringia, schoolchildren have been taught “Business / Law” for years, while the school subject “Business / Vocational and Study Orientation” was recently introduced in Baden-Württemberg. A few days ago, the NRW School Minister Yvonne Gebauer (FDP) presented the first details on the introduction of a corresponding school subject that the black and yellow state government wants to make mandatory. Accordingly, high school students will be taught from the school year 2019/20 on in the subject “Economics - Politics”, secondary school students in “Economics” and secondary school students in the learning area “Economics and Labor Studies”. According to the minister, the aim should be for the students to be able to classify economic news and help shape the economy later, and also for them to know how to wisely conclude a mobile phone contract.

But not everyone is watching the development without skepticism. Critics warn against uncritical lobbying lessons that transform the school from a place of reflective education into a life guide. One of them is Thomas Beschorner, Professor of Business Ethics and Director of the Institute for Business Ethics at the University of St. Gallen. He worries about the direction of the subject: “The question of what kind of economy should be taught must be discussed,” he says in an interview with the student blog.

Beschorner is concerned that business lessons could be too one-sided. Neoclassical approaches would already dominate in business studies at universities. Other points of view are clearly underrepresented. More and more students and lecturers are therefore calling for plural economics. Keynesian, Marxist and feminist perspectives on the economy should also be taught in the course. The same applies to school, says Beschorner. After all, neoclassicism is only one of many approaches to explain economic relationships. Multiple perspectives are important to him. The Beutelsbach Consensus already stipulates that teachers of the social sciences should organize their lessons in a controversial manner and not prioritize any way of thinking. Beschorner puts it this way: "The subject must not be an ideological skirmish."

Inadequate training

It should be made clear at all times that economic decisions have consequences for both social and political events, says Beschorner. For example, a comprehensive assessment of the austerity policy in Greece must also take into account the social consequences.

In any case, the school subject is not a guarantee for imparting profound economic knowledge under all circumstances, according to Beschorner. There is also much to be said for understanding social sciences as an integrating subject from politics, sociology and economics and expanding economic education within this framework. An increase in social science education makes it possible to embed economic questions in political and social contexts.

It may also be problematic that the university education of teachers is very different and that not all of them have sufficient competencies after completing the same to allow the students a multi-perspective view of the economy. The framework conditions vary from state to state, even from university to university. While at some universities in North Rhine-Westphalia there are dedicated socio-economic elements in the study of social sciences, teachers in Baden-Württemberg only have knowledge of politics or economics - if they have not studied both subjects. Of course, according to Beschorner, there is still the option of entrusting vocational school teachers with business lessons. But even they would not have the necessary combined knowledge to prepare the many facets in a lesson. For Beschorner the question arises: Who should teach the subject? A matter that also worries the Education and Science Union (GEW).

One-page teaching material

It will be a long time before teacher training at universities will target these new priorities and the degree programs will be reformed accordingly. But especially for educators who are already active in the school service, from Beschorner's point of view it means: "Teachers have to acquire some economic expertise." In doing so, they face major hurdles. The textbook market for the subject “economics” can still be expanded considerably, and in the publications at hand the problem is noticeable that for the most part no social science embedding takes place.

There are now many offers on the Internet. Foundations and initiatives issue teaching materials free of charge that can be used in class. Of course, teachers like to fall back on this. However, Beschorner expressly warns against uncritical use. Because the materials often ignore aspects that are disapproving for the position represented. In such cases, it is the task of the teacher to add material in line with the controversy requirement that enables the pupils to form critical and comprehensive judgments. As a consequence, according to Beschorner, in addition to material from the employer-oriented initiative New Social Market Economy, material from the non-governmental organization Attac, which is critical of globalization, should also flow into the lessons.

“Economic education is an important topic for society, but it depends on what type of economy is being taught,” says Beschorner. In any case, the basic structures for the subject economics prove to be unfavorable. At best, superficially trained teachers should design a controversial business lesson with often one-sided teaching material. It is doubtful whether the goal of helping schoolchildren to come to economic maturity will be met.

Keywords: Thomas Beschorner, University of St. Gallen, subject "Economics", business ethics
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What speaks against "economy" in the classroom

From Philipp Frohn

In order to improve the economic education of the students, many federal states are introducing the subject "economics". Whether that's a good thing depends on the type of teaching, says @ThBeschorner in an interview with @philipp_frohn

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