Hi all - I am repeating a reply I wrote to a new teacher of AP Economics in the US who asked about strategies for incorporating the ideas in Doughnut Economics. I thought that the exchange might get more visibility in this category. One point that she brought up was about the need to address the syllabus requirements of the AP course. Here is my reply:
I teach Economics in the International Baccalaureate program and some time ago tried to start a similar conversation in the IB Economics forum for teachers. So far it hasn’t gotten much traction, but I’m hoping that will change.
I think that both AP and IB teachers face the same problem. We have a packed syllabus, focused on the models and approaches that Kate critiques in the book. We are responsible for helping students achieve success on the exam and, to do that, we need to focus relentlessly on that material. As you are a new teacher, I’m not sure you understand yet how difficult it and time-consuming it can be just to get the students through the material successfully. I too would like to challenge students to go beyond the syllabus and understand fully the assumptions behind the models and to critique the narrow perspective offered by the curriculum. Unfortunately, there can be a high opportunity cost for doing so.
What we really need is for universities to revise their teaching of Economics so that the AP and IB feel that they can revise their syllabi and that the revisions will be valued and accepted by tertiary institutions.
But until then here are a few things (with low / no opportunity cost) I plan to do this coming year - I hope they give you some ideas:
Create posters of the doughnut AND the embedded economy for all the classrooms in which I teach that I can refer to regularly to remind students that dealing effectively with scarce resources is a fundamental part of what economics is supposed to be doing AND that markets are only one component of a more complex system that includes households, the commons, and the state and that all of these are embedded in the larger biosphere. I am quite interested in another conversation thread here about copyright for the images in Kate’s book and I hope she sorts that out soon.
Coordinate topics where possible with our school’s Environmental Systems and Societies (ESS) teacher to get more cross-disciplinary understanding between the two subjects. This past year, for example, we managed to roughly coordinate teaching about carbon trading as one (among many) strategies to mitigate environmental damage. I was able to get all of our DP1 (Grade 11) students taking Economics, ESS, Philosophy and Theory of Knowledge together to do an interdisciplinary lesson on the question “Should the rich world pay for climate change?” where we used Michael Sandel’s broadcast on the BBC’s Global Philosopher to consider the unintended consequences of putting a price on nature. This challenged the relatively uncritical view of carbon trading put forth in their Economics materials.
Use more systems terminology in my class - two ideas (both of which are significant for the ESS course, so students get the interdisciplinary benefit):
Feedback loops. There are so many in the syllabus – wage-price spirals, multiplier effect, poverty trap – and the concept of a feedback loop can be very powerful.
Resiliency. The excessive focus on efficiency in the syllabus leads students to naive conclusions. A little lip service is given to diversification (problems of overspecialization) in international trade / exports, but the concept of economic diversity from the global level right down to the individual is not given enough attention. So when we are covering topics that deal with efficiency, specialization, economies of scale, etc. I plan on making students more aware than I have done in the past of the vulnerability that can bring (to ecosystems, national economies, firms, and individuals).
Target individual students / groups who may be able to use the ideas. For example, the IB program requires a 4,000 word extended essay from students. One ESS student wanted to write about sustainable architecture, and I introduced him to the idea of regenerative design. He got very excited about the concept and will research and write about it with the aim of proposing some ideas for the new school building we plan some years from now. Other students, who are academically capable enough to learn the syllabus and then unlearn it (in a sense) without jeopardizing their exam results, can be seeded with summer reading or interesting articles with alternative perspectives on syllabus topics.
Pass it on. Since reading Doughnut Economics, I’ve been recommending it to everyone I know who might be interested, including people involved in curriculum development in schools, organizations or with textbook publishers. Raising awareness of pluralist perspectives in Economics is critical to curriculum change.
I hope you find something useful here. Good luck with your new career!