November 10, 2013

Letter: Harper economics tutor contextualizes curriculum

I was shocked to read Anastasia Golovashkina’s October 29 article “Contextualizing Curriculum.” It seems she doesn’t understand what I was taught on the first day of every single one of my economics classes at this University: that economics is a discipline studying the “allocation of scarce resources” using mathematical models derived from qualitative analysis and data.

She starts by saying that students don’t learn “basic knowledge” because they are too busy learning “models and theories in an incomplete, out-of-context, and ultimately inadequate way.” But it is those very models and theories that, once mastered, allow you to start asking and answering bigger questions.

She uses the phrase “the curriculum generally implies” to talk about the minimum wage, which is to say she doesn’t understand the difference between a normative and a positive statement. I’m sure she was taught about the difference in Econ 198 and 199, and as a Harper economics tutor, I know my students all understood the difference.

While Golovashkina may want to understand the world’s problems before she finishes econometrics she should take a step back and learn to walk before she tries to run. What Golovashkina is advocating leads to the type of punditry that satisfies initially but fails to meet the rigor of science.

Golovashkina wants economics to “prepare students to understand and accurately discuss the major policy issues of our day.” Well I know the public policy major offers many courses that deal with these issues in a more direct manner.

She ends by saying, “Let’s start teaching more than models—let’s teach reality.” But I was awake enough in my Classics and Philosophical Perspective classes to know that reality is not easily taught, and certainly more than one reality exists. Economics is just one way to approach truth — it’s not the only approach. It is one set of specific tools using mathematical models paired with qualitative thinking informed by data; if Golovashkina wishes to pursue truth in another manner, I suggest a different major.

Benjamin Jacobson (A.B. '13)