How to Make Economics Students More Critical and Adaptive Thinkers?

Can we learn something from philosophy students?

In a recent post, I argued that in dogma have replaced rational debates in economics. A dogma is a set of principles that are laid down by an overarching authority and are seen as incontrovertibly true.

Today, economics is taught as a set of assumptions that are considered unquestionably infallible, static, and true. Economics curriculum is supposed to produce adaptive thinkers who understand how the economy works and are capable of providing guidance for public and private stakeholders. Employers, nevertheless, complain about the lack of student’ adaptive and critical abilities.

For example, conventional wisdom proposes a negative relationship between minimum wage and employment. But in reality, a change in wage policy can lead to different results in different contexts.

When real world conditions do not fit an economic model, economics students don’t know what to do. They are paralyzed because they are incapable of manipulating models contextually like engineers, instead of solely theorizing like mathematicians.

The current economic curriculum is failing to create critical thinkers because the economics is taught in isolation of economic history. Economics today looks like a static science. After reading a conventional economics textbook, it’s easy to come away thinking that the world has always been this way and will always remain this way.

But in fact our understanding of the economy has evolved and changed dramatically over time. The absence of the historical dynamism of economic thought in economics textbooks has made students less critical of its assumptions and more fearful of challenging them.

More importantly, economics textbooks are empty of any true intellectual debate. Students are forced to leave their critical questions at the classroom door and surrender to one school of thought. I’m not talking about classroom discussions; I’m talking about the solitary intellectual conversation that occurs when a student manipulates contrary ideas in his or her mind.

Pluralism in economics curriculum is not just a matter of ”fairness.” It is a matter of intellectual development. Consider that philosophy students, who typically debate different intellectual concepts in their minds more than most other students, have also proven to be the most critical and analytical students among their peers.

There is one philosophy student who studies a single philosophical school. Sure they might have a focus, but they most certainly were exposed to other intellectual traditions. Economics students are not only exposed to one school of thought, they are also told that it is the only “right” school of thought.

Economics needs a curriculum that teaches students to apply models adaptively like engineers and not to simply theorize like mathematicians. A curriculum that facilitates debate on big ideas instead of spoon-feeding only one ideology.

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