Social Education 58(1), 1994, pp. 29-30
1994 National Council for the Social Studies
For teachers eager to use the ideas presented in this section, the United States History: Eyes on the Economy curriculum materials from the National Council on Economic Education are ideal. The materials are based on a proven six-part Handy Dandy Guide for Solving Economic Mysteries, previously used in Capstone: The Nation's High School Economics Course, also published by the National Council on Economic Education. The Handy Dandy Guide stresses these economic principles:
1. People choose.
2. People's choices involve costs.
3. People respond to incentives in predictable ways.
4. People create economic systems that influence individual choices and incentives.
5. People gain when they trade voluntarily.
6. People's choices have consequences that lie in the future.
These six principles of economics are by themselves sufficient to solve many of the mysteries of America's past. Without an understanding of these principles, many events in U.S. history will remain mysterious to students.
United States History: Eyes on the Economy is organized into two volumes (the &Mac222;rst volume ends with the Civil War). Each volume consists of eight units, and each unit contains several lessons. Most lessons are organized around an economic mystery of the type illustrated in this issue. The economic mystery approach provides a hook to grab students' attention and interest, while the guide's principles are used as the keys to solve the mystery. This approach helps students see that studying history is more than remembering past events. It also helps students learn that people's behavior in the past did not consist of meaningless, random actions. Instead, people tended to behave according to underlying principles that they learned and applied.
A useful supplement to the United States History: Eyes on the Economy materials is Strategies for Teaching Economics: United States History, also published by the National Council on Economic Education. This volume contains thirteen lessons on different historical events and periods in U.S. history, tying economic concepts and explanations into the history. Most of the lessons provide reading materials or student handouts and questions for class discussion (plus teacher reference materials) that help students understand historical events and mysteries. In addition, several of the lessons contain role-playing or simulation exercises that provide hands-on experience with economic phenomena.
Many different video materials are available to augment print materials and textbooks. Economic events in twentieth-century U.S. history are covered in the Economics U$A series, produced by the Annenberg Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and available through Intellimation (800) LEARNER. Made up of more than eighty eight-to-ten-minute episodes tied together with brief economic analyses, the series uses a wide variety of historical events and associated video materials to illustrate economic concepts. The teacher's guide provides thumbnail sketches of the events covered, along with an explanation of the associated economic concepts.
Two videos provide coverage of the roles played in economic history by key individuals. The Entrepreneurs: An American Adventure is a six-volume series that contains pro&Mac222;les of nineteenth- and twentieth-century American men and women whose ingenuity and inventions changed technology and business. More narrowly focused on business entrepreneurs, The Lions of Capitalism chronicles the achievements of J. P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, and Ray Kroc (founder of McDonald's). Both videos provide a personalized view of economic history.
A more recent set of video and print materials is contained in the Taxes in U.S. History package, available through the National Council on Economic Education at (800) 338-1192, and also through local Internal Revenue Service taxpayer education offices. The materials focus on three episodes in U.S. history in which tax questions had a major influence: the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, protective tariff questions in the 1830s, and the origin of the modern income tax in the early 1900s. Each episode is keyed to a twenty-minute video dramatizing the issue through the eyes of teenagers living at the time. Although built around tax episodes, the videos and associated print materials thoroughly illustrate main themes in U.S. history and are useful in any U.S. history class, whether or not economics is integrated into the rest of the class.
Although not designed specifically for teaching history or economics, commercial films depicting historical events can be useful adjuncts to history classes and in some cases can be used to integrate history and literature. For example, The Grapes of Wrath is not only an example of great literature, and a great film, it also provides an excellent way to introduce young people to the realities of life in the Great Depression. Seeing the Depression through the eyes of the Joad family provides a powerful introduction to the motivations that led people to call for increased government intervention in the U.S. economy during the 1930s.
Although there are no commercial computer programs specifically designed to incorporate economics into U.S. history, several high-quality programs do include substantial economic elements in their historical coverage. Many teachers are already familiar with Minnesota Educational Computer Consortium's venerable Oregon Trail, a historical simulation that takes students on an 1800s wagon train trip. A significant part of the program is devoted to economic decisions, giving students the opportunity to confront the need to make choices, the costs involved in those choices, and the gains to be made from voluntary trade. Use of the program, particularly the new version that features interaction among groups of students, helps reinforce economic thinking in historical contexts.
The American History Pack, part of the Tom Snyder Productions Decisions, Decisions series, is designed to help students understand historical contexts: colonization, the Revolutionary War, a period of high immigration, and a period of urbanization. Using information from U.S. history, students grapple with fundamental economic issues and concepts as they act in the roles of leaders and decision-makers in society.
Another useful program is Immigrant: The Irish Experience in Boston, developed by the Educational Technology Center, Harvard University Graduate School of Education. Organized around an Appleworks data disk, Immigrant has students act as an immigrant family would in Boston during the 1840-60 period. Using information gathered from the computer data base, students make decisions about living and working. They face simulated versions of the same economic decisions immigrants faced historically, and they practice finding and organizing computer-based data.
Teacher Background Materials for Economic History
In addition to materials for student and classroom use, many resources are available for teachers to use in gaining background information and for individual students to use in research. For teachers who want a quick refresher on (or a first-time introduction to) the basics of economics, a useful reference is the short paperback What Is Economics? by Jim Eggert. Much less encyclopedic than standard principles-of-economics texts, Eggert's book provides an easy-to-read introduction to the basic concepts needed to understand the economic analysis of historical events.
Teachers interested in teaching the economic background of U.S. history will also benefit from access to a good college-level textbook in U.S. economic history; one well-regarded text is Jonathan R. T. Hughes's American Economic History. In addition to the standard chronological coverage of events in the U.S. past, Hughes includes several chapters on special topics such as slavery, the role of entrepreneurship in economic growth, and the effect of colonial British rule and institutions on later economic growth; these chapters reflect recent research in the study of economic history. Hughes also includes introductory essays, useful to high school history students as well as teachers, on the "main currents" of political and social themes underlying economic events during different periods in U.S. history.
Several books on more specialized topics are also valuable for U.S. history teachers who want to integrate economic concepts into their classes. For additional information on the economic background and effects of the United States Constitution, Charles Beard's An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States provides an interesting, although still controversial, look at the possible economic motivations of the framers of the Constitution. Another controversial source is Time on the Cross by Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman. It provides a thorough and much-contested economic analysis of slavery in the United States.
For teachers who want to focus on the role of entrepreneurial individuals in U.S. history, Jonathan R. T. Hughes's classic The Vital Few provides a different approach to understanding U.S. economic history. Hughes approaches the growth and development of the U.S. economy by focusing on economic biographies of key individuals. Included among his vital few are not only business leaders Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, George Harriman, and J. P. Morgan and inventors Thomas Edison and Eli Whitney, but also political inventors such as William Penn and Brigham Young. The Vital Few is nontechnical and is useful for high school students working on research papers in U.S. history.
Professional Development Opportunities
Assistance with obtaining and using the materials described above, along with training in their use, is available from the more than 250 university-based Centers for Economic Education that make up the National Council on Economic Education network. Staffed by experienced economic educators, these centers offer curriculum consulting, materials for classroom use, and teacher training workshops; many centers will soon begin offering workshops on the new United States History: Eyes on the Economy materials.
For the address of the center nearest you, call the National Council on Economic Education at (800) 338-1192.
It should be evident from all the materials and teacher training opportunities described above that teaching and learning economic concepts and explanations in U.S. history should not be a mystery to history teachers, or to history students, any longer. Students need an understanding of the vital economic underpinnings of historical events to understand the history of their society and their world, and to be responsible citizens.
Agency for Instructional Technology and the Joint Council on Economic Education. Taxes in U.S. History. Video and printed material. New York: Agency for Instructional Technology and the Joint Council on Economic Education, 1991.Beard, Charles A. An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1957.Economics U$A. Philadelphia: Annenberg Foundation, 1992. Video.Educational Technology Center, Harvard University Graduate School of Education. Immigrant: The Irish Experience in Boston. Scotts Valley, Calif.: Sunburst, 1990. Computer program.Eggert, James. What Is Economics? Mountain View, Calif.: Mayfield Publishing, 1993.Fogel, Robert W., and Stanley L. Engerman. Time on the Cross. 2 vols. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1974.The Grapes of Wrath. Los Angeles: Twentieth Century-Fox, 1940. Video.Hughes, Jonathan R. T. The Vital Few. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1966._____. American Economic History. 2d ed. Glenview, Ill.: Scott Foresman and Co., 1987.The Lions of Capitalism: Great American Millionaires. Los Angeles: Forbes/LCA, 1986. Video.Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium. Oregon Trail. Minneapolis: Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium, 1992. Computer program.O'Neill, James B. Strategies for Teaching Economics: United States History. New York: Joint Council on Economic Education, 1980.Reinke, Robert W., Mark C. Schug, and Donald R. Wentworth. Capstone: The Nation's High & School Economics Course. New York: National Council on Economic Education, 1989.Sandler, M. The Entrepreneurs. Boston: Enterprise Media, 1986. Video series.Schug, Mark C., Jean Caldwell, Donald R. Wentworth, Beth Kraig, and Robert J. Highsmith. United States History: Eyes on the Economy. 2 vols. New York: National Council on Economic Education, 1993.Tom Snyder Productions. American History Pack. Cambridge, Mass.: Tom Snyder Productions, 1986. Computer programs.James E. Clark is Assistant Professor of Economics and Director of the Center for Economic Education at Wichita State University in Wichita, Kansas.