Saturday, September 25, 2010

Economic Pygmalion Effect

Why I teach comes to me in these small little moments along the way.  It's this particular look in a student's eyes...the one when you just *know* they get what you're trying to teach them.  Maybe it's just about comprehension, but it's also about that spark being created.  Watching a student fall in love with a topic you're teaching makes any drudgery of teaching worth it. 

I always thought I'd only get that from my college students.  Never once did I want to teach younger children, except my own.  I suspect that's mainly because I'd be a terrible fit as a public school teacher, just like I was a terrible fit as a public school kid.  My process is too renegade, too unconventional. 

But then the co-op thing happened, and here I am teaching younger kids one day a week. I come in there and take everything I teach my college students... I just change the details.  Running lemonade stands instead of retail shops. I talk in economic vocab to them; I don't insult their intelligence by dumbing it down; and they are soaking it up beyond anyone's expectations. 

I keep seeing that over and over in my life: When you treat children with the Pygmalion Effect...raise the bar of expectation...they seem to thrive and want to join you in that new vision of themselves.

And I LOVE it.  Love it beyond words can say.  These explosions of conversation about human commodities and producers and consumers and market research and they UNDERSTAND it all.  They are feeling the energy of it and the hour is flying by in what seems like minutes.

They are learning things I never learned at that age, and I wish that I had.   I had no idea economics meant what it meant, and now they have that chance.  Maybe they'll care, maybe they won't.  But they'll at least have the understanding to make an informed decision.

Years ago, I did a few speaking engagements for the National Council of Economic Education.  I was asked to teach schoolteachers about personal finance for their own sake, but the organization is about getting economics to younger kids through curriculum in the schools.  I thought the idea was nice, but didn't really connect with it.

After having kids, I figured I'd teach my kids about econ as much as they wanted, since there was a chance they'd have the interest (both Steve and I love the topic, so it's floating in the genes somewhere).  But I still wasn't thinking about it in a broader sense.

But then, seeing what these students are absorbing, I'm feeling really passionate about the concept.  Why don't they teach more econ in schools?  Yes, it can be a complex topic...but when it comes down to it, the most important elements are really quite basic.  And completely fascinating, even to younger students.

This beautiful-spirited girl came up to me after class, her eyes shining.  "This week, I got $100 from my grandma, and I thought a lot about what you said about scarcity and opportunity cost."  She looked so happy, but I can't imagine she could have felt more joy than I did in that moment.  She was falling in love with economics, I could see it in her. 


I already found my curriculum for next semester, and I am so excited to do this again.  One for middle-schoolers about being an economic detective...using case studies to solve mysteries using economics.  And another called Play-Doh Economics, for 6-9 year olds.  How cute will that be?