Most students who take introductory economics seem to leave the course without really having learned even the most important basic economic principles. For example, their ability to answer simple economic questions several months after leaving the course is not measurably different from that of people who never took a principles course (Hansen, Salemi and Siegfried 2002). The problem seems to be that instructors of principles courses almost always try to teach students far too much. In the process, really important ideas get no more coverage than minor ones. Everything ends up going by in a blurFrank, R. H. (2006). The economic naturalist writing assignment. The Journal of Economic Education, 37(1), 58-67.
So begins a paper called “The Economic Naturalist Writing Assignment”, a paper that everybody can (and dare I say should) read. Robert Frank has forgotten more about teaching principles of economics than most of us will ever learn. 48 years of teaching, so that last sentence isn’t rhetorical.
A successful economics learning experience should mirror these same steps. A short list of basic principles should be presented to students, one at a time in the context of simple examples drawn from familiar settings. Following each, students should be asked to practice the principle by using it to solve simple problems that are closely parallel to the ones used to illustrate the principle. The student should then be given the opportunity to pose original questions and use the same basic principles to answer them.Frank, R. H. (2006). The economic naturalist writing assignment. The Journal of Economic Education, 37(1), 58-67.
Readers who are familiar with the book The Economic Naturalist will have guessed where this is going. For years, Professor Frank asked his students to write essays about things they saw around them that they found puzzling, interesting, or counterintuitive. The point of the essays was to, well, observe and ask. And then, using the principles of economics that had just been taught to them, try and come up with answers.
A really successful paper is one that begins with a really interesting question (one that makes the listener instantly curious to learn the answer) and then uses an economic principle or principles to construct a plausible answer. You’ll know you have a good paper if the first thing your roommate wants to do upon reading it is to tell friends about it.Frank, R. H. (2006). The economic naturalist writing assignment. The Journal of Economic Education, 37(1), 58-67.
What kind of questions? Here are just two (the names in parentheses are of the students who asked the question, and went on to answer them in their essays):
- Why do brides spend so much money on wedding dresses, whereas grooms often rent cheap tuxedos, even though grooms could potentially wear their tuxedos on many other occasions and brides will never wear their dresses again?
- Why are round-trip fares from Hawaii to the mainland higher than the corresponding fares from the mainland to Hawaii? (Karen Hittle)
Curious to hear the answers? Please, read the paper as an appetizer, and for the mains, buy the book.
In the paper I have been excerpting from, Professor Frank uses the analogy of how tennis is taught to beginners, beginning with basic drills (of which the forehand comes first).
Those who aspire to move their games to a higher level typically continue with formal instruction. However, for them, too, an important part of the learning process is continued play.Same as earlier, which is what ibid means
Now, about that “continued play” being an important part of the learning process, Tyler Cowen has a post out today, titled “Why do they keep the books wrapped in Mexican bookstores?“:
Yes, wrapped in clear shrink wrap. So you can’t page through them and see what the book might be like. I can think of a few hypotheses:https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2021/07/why-do-they-keep-the-books-wrapped-in-mexican-bookstores.html
They don’t want you standing in the bookstore reading the thing, rather than buying it. A bit like some U.S. comics news stands in days past. Yet this doesn’t seem so plausible for longer books or most novels.
They want the books to look nicer and less grimy.
How about price discrimination?
If Tyler Cowen can take the time out to practice his forehand, surely the rest of us can also train like athletes?
Principles of economics can be learnt for free online, using any resource of your choice. I’m not linking to any specific one because I want to make the point that you can very, very easily choose a resource, and it will likely be great.
But better still, principles of economics can be practiced very easily too! What are you waiting for? 🙂
Finally: Crosswords (at least the one closest to my home) wraps some books in clear shrink wrap, but not others. Does anybody know why?