“So, how young do you think is too young to start teaching kids economics?”
I was sort of stunned by the question.
I was sitting on a panel presenting non-traditional ways of using media to teach economics and I had just told a room full of economists, including a Nobel laureate, that they ought to be using The Lego Movie to teach the theory of comparative advantage. I had a display of Lego minifigures set up on the table next to me (which I had to rent from my son, but I’ll save that story for another blog post) which I had actually played with as a part of my presentation. My roommate at this particular conference had brought a suitcase full of plastic bananas. Yes, indeed, how young is too young to play with Legos and plastic bananas?
From the moment children are born, if not sooner, they begin to experience economics. An infant recognizes that it has desires going unmet, and signals appropriately. From a very young age, children almost instinctively know that clearly defined property rights can be an effective form of dispute resolution, as they emphatically declare, “Mine!” They learn that sharing resources voluntarily can help them develop positive interpersonal relationships while being forced to share often leads to frustration and resentment. When playing games, they learn how institutions and rules help shape our decision-making process, and how cheaters make the process more difficult for everyone by destroying trust relationships.
While children are experiencing these phenomena is perhaps the best time to teach them what they mean and how to apply these principles to other aspects of life as well!
For most children, by the time they are learning economics in a formalized school setting, what they are taught is dull and boring, a compartmentalized version of a social science that treats people as mere inputs to the machine of productivity.
No wonder they hate it! They’ve been convinced that it is little more than a tool for the greedy and corrupt!
That is not the economics I know and love. That is not the economics that I teach. Just ask one of my own kids to explain
Just ask one of my own kids to explain “The Power of the Special” and you will see that economics is about real people helping others to become the hero of their own story.
Here at ATKE, we feel a sense of urgency to help kids learn and love the economic way of thinking and to do so in a way that is not only fun and engaging but real and relevant to who they are as people. It is never too early to start teaching kids economics!