Dec 28, 2003 7:23 pm


You want to see what we're up against? Joanne Jacobs links to an article by Neil Boortz on how bad some economic education really can be.
The children sit in a circle. Some are wearing mittens; others are waiting expectantly with little plastic shovels. The rules of the game state that a few of the children must do nothing but sit and watch as the action begins. On the leader's"Go!" the children scramble for 100 pennies that have been scattered on the floor in the center of the circle. The players with mittens are having a rough time picking up any pennies at all. The kids with shovels are scooping up some pretty good numbers, while the kids working with their bare hands experience modest success.

... Once the exercise is completed the children with shovels will have more pennies (the rules also allow the use of candy or peanuts), the kids wearing mittens will have less. The participants who were not allowed to scramble for pennies will have nothing. The pennies, of course, represent the world's wealth.

After the scramble is completed, the students with many pennies are told that they may give some pennies to their classmates with less, if they want to. If they do decide to give away some pennies, they will be honored on a list of"donors."

During the second part of this exercise students are asked to devise plans for a fair distribution of the pennies. They are asked to pass judgment on the other students who did or did not give away some pennies to others, and whether or not there should be a redistribution of wealth in America, and how to accomplish this redistribution.

Boortz is not making this up; here's the damned assignment, from another of those enlightened indoctrinators educators at Your Local Government University. The following is suggested for younger children:
1. Younger children may need more concrete items to work for. Instead of using pennies to represent another reward, try using shelled peanuts or small wrapped candies, and tell children that they will be allowed to eat the treats when the activity has been completed. The rewards attached should be designed to be meaningful to the participants playing the game. For example, each penny could signify a certain amount of extra recess or free time in class or a special treat from the teacher. Design the rewards to be valuable enough to make authentic distinctions between the “wealthy and powerful” and the “poor and weak.

2. When debriefing with young children, focus on their views of “fair” and “unfair” and their proposals for making matters more fair. The discussion questions need to be modified for the appropriate developmental level.

The one I use with college freshmen is Stick Up, which encourages production and trade. It's probably not useful below the high school level without some serious modification (though the inspiration of getting candy for your widgets works wonders), but you get the idea. Again, if you haven't yet given all your gifts to kids, they'll learn much more economics from Roller Coaster Tycoon than they will from these government teachers.

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jollyroger - 1/1/2004

your charming vignette about the children, the pennies, the shovels and the pail is more than slightly confused about the educational objectives.

The only thing this has in common with economics, is that pennies are almost money...

Candy and peanuts are equally usable in the exercise, albeit they are not legal tender, (I think this is what confused you).

Boortz has less (no )excuse, since he fulminated with outrage that the concept "earn" appeared nowhere in the exercise.

Right. That's because it's not about economics.

The intent of the exercise is not to teach ecnomics but ethics.

Note the use of the words "fair" and "unfair"--concepts utterly foreign to the economics, though relevant to the moblilization of political will to transform economic systems,

I think you can relax as to the educational malpractice issue, but Boortz and You walk far down the path trodden by the disingenuous.

Well, Boortz does--maybe you are merely obtuse.

Anyway, to help out, I'm asking the originator of the program to correct me if my take on the purpose and purport of the exercise is wrong.

Frankly, the ethics/economics distincition is so clear that I rather believe you were playing games with the discourse.

Punditry malpractice....