Voices
Illustration by Krieg Barrie

A very hard assignment

But a mountain of correspondence helps define starting principles for teaching economics

Issue: "Between Hell and Hope," Feb. 12, 2011

This is an interim report. I'm using this space simply because I don't have the time or energy to write personal notes to more than 500 of you faithful readers.

In the Jan. 1 issue of WORLD, I told you in this column of my profound concern over the ignorance of the rising generation about basic economic theory and how the finances of a nation and the world tend to work. And I pointed out how pitifully we have tended to address those issues in our elementary educational systems-even those that are private and Christian. "Why should we be surprised," I asked, "when at election time evangelical young people flock to the false ideologies of liberal collectivism and overweening government?"

"No way can we allow another generation of young Christians to grow up," I proposed, "largely ignorant of the truths, principles, and concepts that govern macroeconomics. Instead, from the earliest years, we need to be preparing them to inherit the land, well instructed in such matters."

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And I asked you to help me. I asked you to send me your very best ideas for spelling out basic economic theory to young children. I asked you to list no more than three important economic principles, to state each one in language appropriate for a 10-year-old fourth-grader, and to limit each principle to no more than 30 words. And I stressed that this wasn't about family finances, but about national and international economics.

It was by no means the first time I'd invited reader input. Every time before when I've asked, I've tended to get 40-50 replies. This time, however, more than 500 of you responded!

And boy, did you have opinions. How do I say this gently? You were all over the economic map. If the curricula that are out there in the schools are anything like what you sent me, it's no wonder the kids are mixed up!

I'm still working through the 538 responses I now have in hand, and I'm obliged to tell you that a vast majority of you flouted all my rules. The deadline was Jan. 10, and some of you are still writing me. At least half of you wrote as if for a graduate school seminar. More than 80 of you, on the other hand, reduced the whole assignment to a simple universal truth: "Just teach the kids," you said, "that there ain't no free lunch." At least 20 of you abbreviated even that to a very simple TANFL.

A number of you have been helpful in pointing us to work already done in this sphere, although most of what you pointed to is for high-schoolers or even collegians, rather than for young elementary children.

OK. You've demonstrated to me what I already knew-that this is a very hard assignment. Hard enough so that I thought I'd better tell you all to be patient while we work our way through this mountain of suggestions. Please don't write or call me to ask how we're doing!

So far, you've also helped confirm at least three basic starting principles that even young children can embrace:

1) All wealth comes as a gift created by God. We don't own it. But he lets us create more wealth, and then lets us take care of it.

2) There's no limit to how much wealth there is in the world. It isn't like a pie to be divided up. God helps His people create more and more wealth.

3) Giving wealth away is a bigger blessing than getting wealth. But people should give away only what's theirs-not what belongs to others.

That's where we're headed. That's the kind of thinking-along with much, much more-that we want to get into little children's heads. Just watch this space, and we'll keep you posted on how this important project is developing.
Email Joel Belz

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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