Teaching Economics and the Globalization Debate on the World Wide Web


C. Frederick Risinger

At a time when economics, business, the national budget, and international trade dominate the headlines, economic knowledge and understanding is crucial. The ability to analyze and understand such issues as the privatization of Social Security or the impact of the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) is essential for citizens in a democracy. If we social studies educators live up to our stated mission—to “teach students the content knowledge, intellectual skills, and civic values necessary for fulfilling the duties of citizenship in a participatory democracy”—economics should be as important as history or U.S. government in the curriculum.

There has been substantial progress in expanding the amount of economic content in the K-12 curriculum. Instead of a single, traditional twelfth-grade, one-semester economics course, many of the new state standards now have economic content included at all grade levels. In Texas, Indiana, and many other states, the basic economic principle of scarcity is taught in the first grade. In Maryland, students completing the third grade must be able to “identify the opportunity costs of economic decisions made about goods and services.” If you are interested in seeing the national and state economics standards (or standards for any subject area, for that matter), you can visit the website of Education World, www.educationworld.com/
standards/state/index.shtml. You can search by subject area, state, and grade level.

There are many websites that classroom teachers and students will find helpful in curriculum planning and economics instruction. Many of them have links to one another, so finding one site will lead you to most of the others. Here are some of the best.


The National Council for Economic Education (NCEE)


This is the site where economics teachers, or anyone interested in economics at the K-12 levels should begin. NCEE, a national network that leads the effort to improve economic literacy, developed the Voluntary National Standards in Economics. You can learn about its three core programs: Economics America, which trains more than 120,000 teachers each year; Economics International, helping nations in Central and Eastern Europe and the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union reform their economic education programs; and Economics Exchange, a new program for adults and parents. Economics America has five interactive modules online that help teenagers plan their personal finances.

There are a large number of teacher-developed lesson plans that have been reviewed for economic content and instructional strategies. You can search the lesson plan database by grade level, by concept, by name, and by which standard(s) they meet. You can also take that national economics quiz that led to the NCEE campaign for economic literacy. (I received a grade of 85 percent, and I still think I’m right on that last question.)


Junior Achievement


Junior Achievement provides a sequential and integrated set of economics and business programs for elementary, middle, and high schools. The elementary program is based on the familiar expanding environments scope and sequence pattern (self, family, community, for example). Middle and secondary programs bring businessmen and women into classrooms, set up job-shadowing programs, and instruct in personal finance. The site also has an online business simulation program, JA Titan, where students role-play a company CEO.




This site, at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO), is run by Kim Sosin, Jim Dick, and Mary Lynn Reiser and is always on my list of recommended sites for economics instruction. It is one of the many regional centers affiliated with the NCEE. A variety of lesson plans are online, many developed by teachers who have attended professional development sessions at UNO. The site has a great internal page titled “Using the Internet to Teach Economics” (ecedweb.unomaha.edu/teachsug.htm). Additionally, the site has links to many other sites that can provide teachers and students with useful information. This is probably the most useful of all the sites that I’ve reviewed for economics teachers and students.


Globalism, World Trade, and the
International Economic Order

While economic news and issues make headlines every day, discontent about the international economic structure and trade has emerged as a major concern for world leaders, corporate executives, and policy makers. The recent disruptions of conferences of the G-8 leading economic nations, the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have focused world attention on the concept of globalization. Some of us remember—way back in the 1960s and 1970s—when “global studies” was a new and struggling trend in social studies education. Such advocates as Jim Becker, often referred to as the “father of global studies,” argued that U.S. social studies was too provincial and dominated by a western civilization approach to world history, geography, and cultural studies. The title usually given to the middle school geography/culture course was “non-western studies,” truly an ethnocentric concept. The global studies movement encouraged the inclusion of more content about Africa, Asia, and Latin America in the curriculum and pointed out the many economic and cultural connections between the United States and other nations. Its detractors argued that globalism in the curriculum reduced our appreciation of our national heritage, and some even called it an attack on national sovereignty. At that time, most of the opponents were political conservatives, whereas liberals were more likely to support global studies. Today, textbooks and curriculum guides at state and local levels have substantially more content about other cultures and cultural connections than they did thirty years ago.

Today, globalism or globalization is under attack. The violent protests in the Seattle WTO Conference in 1999 and the G-8 meeting in Genoa, Italy, last summer focused attention on a growing coalition of environmentalists, worker rights activists, animal rights groups, anarchists, and others opposed to multinational corporations and the world economic order. Representing a broad spectrum of groups, lobbyists, and overlapping networks, including some violent extremists whose presence raises security concerns, they share a mutual antipathy to multinational corporate power. To them, global free trade is simply a ruse to increase the power and wealth of multinational corporations.

Teachers who teach courses that focus on contemporary issues, and those who like to use current events to help explain historical and governmental topics, might have a difficult time finding information about the issues surrounding the antiglobalization movement. Several websites can provide background information for teachers, research data for student reports, and topics for student discussions. Because this is a highly controversial and divisive issue, teachers should use care in recommending sites to students and encourage them to be wary of biased, misleading, and deceptive websites. Here are some sites that will be helpful in examining the topic.


Canadian Security Intelligence Service


The Canadian Security Intelligence Service has an excellent report on antiglobalization that identifies the issues from both the perspectives of the antiglobalization activists and those who support global free trade. It identifies organizations active in the movement and the large corporations who are their primary targets. While pointing out that the vast majority of protesters are peaceful, it also describes the radical extremists in the movement. The report provides a foundation for teacher background and for students beginning a study of the antiglobalization issue. The report’s specific URL is www.csis-scrs.gc.ca/eng/miscdocs/200008_e.html.


United for a Fair Economy (UFE)


UFE is a Boston-based “movement support” organization set up to provide media support and training for groups and individuals who share their vision of “a global society where prosperity is better shared, where there is genuine equality of opportunity, where the power of concentrated money and corporations neither dominates the economy nor dictates the content of mass culture.” They have a “Globalization for Beginners” page with dozens of reports and analyses that are critical of free trade, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank. Although there is a definite bias against a globalized economy, the reports are well-written and reasonable, with titles like “Top Ten Reasons to Oppose the IMF.” The URL for the Globalization for Beginners page is www.ufenet.org/econ/globalization/globalization_resources.html.


The World Bank


The World Bank group has a sophisticated and useful website that describes its many development projects in more than one hundred nations. These include efforts to save the Brazilian rainforest, to improve the lives of young children in Africa, and to reduce interethnic tensions in Southeast Europe. There are clearly written descriptions titled “Where Do We Get the Money?” “Where the Money Goes,” and “Ten Things You Never Knew about the Bank.” The reports and ideas on this site balance those in the UFE site.


The Independent Media Center


This antiglobalization site is a collective of independent media organizations and journalists offering grassroots, noncorporate coverage. It claims to be “a democratic media outlet for the creation of radical, accurate, and passionate tellings of truth.” It includes news and reports about racism, human rights violations, environmental concerns, and protests at meetings of the G-8 countries and the IMF. Although there’s no doubt about this site’s point of view on globalization, the information would be useful to teachers and students studying the topic.


The International Monetary Fund (IMF)


The IMF’s site is loaded with reports on world economic issues and economic conditions in individual countries. Viewers can select any country in the world and find reports on all aspects of that nation’s economy and society. Topics range from the rise and fall of pyramid schemes in Albania to the impact of public education expenditures in Zambia. One report, “Globalization: Threat or Opportunity,” is an easy-to-understand presentation of the pro-free trade and globalization point of view. The specific URL for that report is www.imf.org/external/np/exr/ib/2000/041200.htm.


C. Frederick Risinger is director of professional development and coordinator of the Master of Arts in Teaching Social Studies program at Indiana University, Bloomington. He spends far too much time surfing on the web.