Academic journal article Capital & Class

Why Marxist Economics Should Be Taught but Probably Won't Be!

Academic journal article Capital & Class

Why Marxist Economics Should Be Taught but Probably Won't Be!

Article excerpt

Introduction (1)

The crisis in recruitment to economics degrees (perhaps reflecting a wider trend in social sciences, suffering collectively, relative to vocational subjects) in the 1990s led to a raft of literature on how to reverse this trend (Fettig, 1999; Helburn, Salemi & Siegfried, 1999; Becker, 1997; Walstad & Rebeck, 1999; Waistad & Allgood, 1999; Wirtz, 1998; Hartman, 1999 and Eschenbach, 1999; Earl, 2000). This need to reproduce economics and thus its practitioners has inflated the 'education of economics' literature beyond issues of teaching technique, textbook evaluation and learning styles, etc. However, the new focus and energy drew heavily on the existing literature: a primary assumption of the new drive to save economics provision was that students found the subject unattractive because of flawed teaching methods; or at least that any problem could be corrected by better teaching (Becker, 1997; Laney, 1999). More recently though there have been several new developments in the 'education of economics' literatur e. Heterodox economists have taken up similar causes to their orthodox opponents, though they have used different arguments (Cohn, 2001; Earl, 2000) .They have argued that the problem with economics is its content and (although not against innovations in teaching) that the process of teaching is secondary (Rochon, 2001). Whereas orthodox economists focused on process, not (orthodox) content, heterodox economists focus on (orthodox) theoretical content that they oppose. They argue that economics can be more attractive if its subject matter improves. Some heterodox economists have also expressed concern that economics is being dominated by neo-classical economics. They are also concerned about their own prospects and the possibility for the future development of heterodox thought (Lee and Harley, 1999; Dow, 2000). Also, highly significantly, a movement has grown up (from student ranks) in France attacking the content of courses (see Galbraith, 2001). (2)

The current debate has, therefore, centred on either the content or process of education, but without considering the aims. Helburn (1997) has suggested that clearly both content and process are necessary and interconnected. Whilst this is undoubtedly true, it is argued here that any discussion of content or process should be preceded by a discussion of the aims of education. It is necessary to understand exactly what the educator is attempting to achieve before the means of achieving it can be discussed. It seems clear, therefore, that a discussion regarding the teaching--or not teaching--of orthodox economics must involve a discussion of the aims of education. However, a consideration of the aims of education is largely absent from the existing literature. This paper aims to address that absence.

As the authors are economists, the aims of education are placed within the context of the teaching of Economics. It does seem likely that heterodox economists will disagree more on the means than on the aims, but we do however need to be clear about these aims, for there will not be complete agreement. Common to those positions, though, any discussion of the aims of education would probably be either naive or utopian without a consideration of the wider social context, as education has always had this wider social role. Those who wish to teach heterodox economics must be aware of this social context or they will inevitably fail.

Such discussions have a long history, and Castle points out that 'Plato would certainly remind us that it is impossible to devise the right means if we are not clear what our aim is to be' (1961: 203-4). Bertrand Russell (1992: 413) agrees: 'Before considering how to educate, it is well to be clear as to the sort of result which we wish to achieve.' Mager writes: 'Instructors simply function in a fog of their own making unless they know what they want their students to accomplish as a result of their instruction' (cited in Curzon, 1990: 131). …

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