The Teagle Discussion on Re-evaluating the Undergraduate Economics Major
Edited by David Colander and KimMarie McGoldrick
Chapter 10: Reflections on Introductory Course Structures
Paul W. Grimes One of the underlying themes of the Teagle Report is the recognition that institutional forces within academe have narrowed and vocationalized the traditional college major. The authors rightfully argue that the vocation in question is that of an academic researcher or specialist within the students’ discipline. As a result, students are deprived of a broader understanding of the social context and relevance of their chosen field. Nowhere is this more true than in economics; and it generally begins with students’ first exposure to the discipline. Across the country more than 1 million college students enroll in principles of economics courses each academic year, and their classroom experiences are virtually the same. Whether the course is taken at an elite private college or at a large state-supported research university, students study remarkably similar material from remarkably similar textbooks. Not only are today’s introductory textbooks “structured after the Samuelsonian texts of the 1950s,” (see pp. 31–2 of the report, Chapter 1, this volume) they are often regarded as commodities by the faculty that teach from them. Pick up any “principles book” and you can be assured that it includes the basic canon of material that makes up 90 percent of the typical “principles course” at a vast majority of US colleges and universities. As a result, textbook adoptions are often not preceded by careful study and consideration by a department’s faculty. Today, textbook decisions tend to hinge on matters of convenience (“What did we use last year?”) or...
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