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Beyond Civics and the 3 R's: Teaching Economics in the Schools

  • Andrew L. Yarrow (a1)
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During the twenty to twenty-five years after World War II, children in the United States were increasingly taught to understand their nation, its history, and its economic greatness—as an “economy”—rather than in social, moral, philosophical, or political terms (i.e., as a society, a community, a republic, etc.). Equally powerful was its message that the U.S. economy was an unprecedented marvel of productivity and a facet of Americanness of which to be proud and to defend. During this time period, not only did an economics education movement emerge, but economics increasingly was taught as part of social studies, history, or other classes, and a huge amount of curricular material was developed and disseminated for classroom use.

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1 Brinkley, Alan, The End of Reform: New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995); Nelson Lichtenstein, “From Corporatism to Collective Bargaining: Organized Labor and the Eclipse of Social Democracy in the Postwar Era,” in The Rise and Fall of the New Deal Order, 1930–1980, ed. Fraser, Steve and Gerstle, Gary (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989); Godfrey Hodgson, , America in Our Time (New York: Vintage Books, 1976); Wolfe, Alan, America's Impasse: The Rise and Fall of the Politics of Growth (New York: Pantheon Books, 1981); Griffith, Robert, “Forging America's Postwar Order: Domestic Politics and Political Economy in the Age of Truman,” in The Truman Presidency, ed. Lacey, Michael J. (Cambridge: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and Cambridge University Press, 1989); Fones-Wolf, Elizabeth, Selling Free Enterprise: The Business Assault on Labor and Liberalism, 1945–1960 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994); Robert Collins, The Business Response to Keynes, 1929–1964 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981); Collins, Robert M., More: The Politics of Economic Growth in Postwar America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000); Lears, T.J.Jackson, Fables of Abundance: A Cultural History of Advertising in America (New York: Basic, 1994); Cohen, Lizabeth, A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America (New York: Knopf, Alfred A., 2003); Jacobs, Meg, Pocketbook Politics: Economic Citizenship in 20th-Century America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005); and Bernstein, Michael A., A Perilous Progress: Economists and Public Purpose in Twentieth-Century America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001).

2 Joint Council on Economic Education, “Education for the Economic Challenges of Tomorrow: A Report of a Symposium in Conjunction with the 10th Anniversary of the JCEE, 1949–1959” (New York, 1959), 2830.

3 Leach, William, Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture (New York: Pantheon, 1993).

4 Secondary school enrollment, which was about 45 percent in 1930 and 60 percent in 1945, rose to more than 90 percent by 1965. Similarly, kindergarten enrollment rose from 21 percent in 1950 to 70 percent in 1965. National Center for Education Statistics, 120 Years of American Education: A Statistical Portrait (NCES Web site); and Barnett, W. Steven and Belfields, Clive R., “Early Childhood Development and Social Mobility” (unpublished paper, Brookings Institution, 2005).

5 McCabe, James D., The Centennial History of the United States (Philadelphia: The National Publishing Co., 1875), 4; and McGuffey cited in Knud Krakau, ed. The American Nation, National Identity, Nationalism (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1997), 39.

6 See, for example, McCabe, , The Centennial History of the United States;, Montgomery, David H., The Leading Facts of American History (Boston: Ginn & Co., 1900); and Morris, Charles, Young Student's History of the United States (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1900), 3, 250.

7 Fitzgerald, Frances, America Revised: History Schoolbooks in the Twentieth Century (Boston: Little Brown, 1979), 170–74.

8 Ibid., 53, 59, 63, 65; and Muzzey, David Saville, An American History (Boston: Ginn and Co., 1920), 537.

9 West, Willis Mason, American History and Government (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1913), iii, chap. 1–11.

10 Fitzgerald, , America Revised, 107–08; and Moreau, Joseph, Schoolbook Nation: Conflicts Over American History Textbooks From the Civil War to the Present (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2003), 171, 209.

11 West, American History and Government, iii, 642, 703.

12 Charles, and Beard, Mary R., History of the United States: A Study in American Civilization (New York: Macmillan, 1921), 186, 297, 401, 620.

13 Fitzgerald, , America Revised, 114; and Casner, Mabel B. and Gabriel, Ralph H., Exploring American History (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1933), 750, 560, 625.

14 Lerner, Robert, Nagai, Althea K., and Rothman, Stanley, Molding the Good Citizen: The Politics of High School History Texts (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995), 107; and Moreau, Schoolbook Nation, 210ff.

15 Fitzgerald, , America Revised, 37; Moreau, , Schoolbook Nation, 230ff; and Rugg, Harold Ordway, A History of American Civilization: Economic and Social (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1930), 596, 606, 615–24. Rugg even offered the heretical observation that women were paid less than men for the same jobs.

16 Moreau, , Schoolbook Nation, 241, 243, 248; and Fitzgerald, , America Revised, 37.

17 Brinkley, Alan, The End of Reform: New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995); and Nelson Lichtenstein, “From Corporatism to Collective Bargaining: Organized Labor and the Eclipse of Social Democracy in the Postwar Era,” in The Rise and Fall of the New Deal Order, 1930–1980, ed. Fraser, Steve and Gary Gerstle (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989).

18 Fitzgerald, , America Revised, 55; see also Moreau, Schoolbook Nation, 256–59.

19 Fitzgerald, America Revised, 55–56.

20 Ibid., 105, 109.

21 Casner, Mabel B. and Gabriel, Ralph H., The Story of American Democracy (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co. 1946), v, 301, 342, 577.

22 Harlow, Ralph Volney and Miller, Ruth Elizabeth, Story of America (New York: Henry Holt, 1947), v, 391–92, 664. Harlow and Miller largely avoid the New Deal and World War II, but note that other countries “all recovered from the Depression without a New Deal.”

23 Whalen, Frank D., and Baldwin, Orrel, Our America (New York: Noble and Noble, 1953), 241, 318.

24 Wirth, Fremont P., The Development of America (New York: American Book Company, 1950), 1, 225, 811.

25 Wirth, Fremont P., United States History Revised Edition (New York: American Book Company, 1957), introductory section.

26 Ibid.

27 Muzzey, David Saville, A History of Our Country: A Textbook for High School Students (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1945), 109, 313, 806, 897.

28 Ibid., 137, 164, 320–21. While a hint of change can already be seen in 1950, when Muzzey proudly notes America's pre-eminent position in car and telephone ownership, it is only in the 1955 edition that he devotes a full four chapters to “How Our Reunited Country Increased in National Wealth and Power.”

29 Wilder, Howard B., Ludlum, Robert P., and Brown, Harriet McCune, This is America's Story (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1954), 2, 7, 664.

30 Ibid., 507, 509, 467; 2, 7, 664; and Wilder, Howard B., Ludlum, Robert P., and Brown, Harriet McCune, This Is America's Story (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1963), 481, xi, 442, 535.

31 Bragdon, Henry W. and McCutchen, Samuel P., History of A Free People (New York: Macmillan, 1954), ix, 3, 672, 644. Interestingly for a high school text, Bragdon and McCutcheon commend the CED for helping to prevent a postwar depression.

32 Hartman, Gertrude, America: Land of Freedom (Boston: D.C. Heath, 1959), 577–78, 583. The only discordant notes in this tale of “continuing industrial progress” are the unspoken, but implicit fear that nuclear war, depression or other “natural disaster” (sic) could call a halt to this march of progress, and the surprising exhortation “to increase production and spread its benefits so that every family will share in the abundance which by our united efforts we are now able to produce.”

33 Hartman, Gertrude, America: Land of Freedom, vi–vii.

34 Moon, Glenn W., Cline, Don C., and MacGowan, John H., Story of Our Land and People (New York: Henry Holt, 1957), x, 399, 441, 472, 474, 599, 611.

35 Moon, Glenn W., Story of Our Land and People (New York: Henry Holt, 1949), xiii, 582.

36 McGuire, Edna and Portwood, Thomas B., Our Free Nation (New York: Macmillan, 1954), v.

37 Wilder, Howard B., Ludlum, Robert P., and Brown, Harriet McCune, This Is America's Story (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1954), 507; Philip Dorf, American History in Review (New York: Keystone Education Press, 1954), 231; and Wilson, Howard Eugene and Lamb, Wallace E., American History (New York: American Book Company, 1955), 589, 577–80.

38 Ibid., 543, 514.

39 Todd, Lewis Paul and Curti, Merle, The Rise of the American Nation (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1966), 810, 556, 545, 815, 797.

40 Hicks, John D., Mowry, George E., and Burke, Robert E., A History of American Democracy, 3d ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1966), 788–89.

41 Link, Arthur, The Growth of American Democracy: An Interpretive History (Boston: Ginn, 1968), 725, 676, 669–73, 573.

42 Edwin Fenton/Carnegie-Mellon University Social Studies Curriculum Center, The Americans: A History of the United States (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1970), 8081, 461.

43 Graff, Henry F., The Free and the Brave: The Story of the American People (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1967, 1972), 580–81, 674, 682, 686. Graff wrote cynically of American abundance, under the caption “Atrocities Against Man and Nature:” “The industrial might of the United States has produced oceans of food and goods. This might has enticed Americans into the accumulation of material things a high goal of life.”

44 Senior Scholastic, February 1950 and Feb. 9, 1956.

45 National Museum of American History, Ayer Collection, Series 3, Box 36.

46 “America's Economic System,” Senior Scholastic, March 15, 1950. Sarnoff's forecast of e-mail by 2000 is uncanny. See also Paul Hoffman Papers, Box 118, Harry S. Truman Library Institute, Independence, MO.

47 “Business, Labor, and the Citizen Good,” Senior Scholastic, April 11, 1951.

48 Senior Scholastic, “Our Economic Picture Today: Changing Face of America” (March 17, 1954); “Economic Records Broken” (October 27, 1955); “1956: Another Boom Year?” (Feb. 9,1956); “U.S. Boom Keeps Rolling” (Feb. 8,1957); “Are We Having Too Much Prosperity?” (March 8, 1957); and “U.S. Charts Its Course for '62” (Feb. 7, 1962).

49 Senior Scholastic, “America: The Middle Way” (Dec. 8, 1955); “Democratic Capitalism” (April 19, 1956); and “Watchdogs on Wall Street” (Nov. 7, 1958), which concluded that “the owners of the world's richest nation are the people of the world's richest nation.”

50 Senior Scholastic, “Special Issue: The American Economy 1962—From Main Street to Wall Street,” April 18, 1962.

51 The National Association of Manufacturers presented “Industry on Parade” each week on NBC-TV from 1950 to 1960, and “The American Economy,” produced by the CED, the Joint Council on Economic Education, and the American Economic Association, aired on CBS from 1962–64 (see pp. 33–34, below).

52 Moore, Colleen Ann, “The National Association of Manufacturers: The Voice of Industry and the Free Enterprise Campaign in the Schools, 1929–1949” (dissertation, University of Akron, 1985), 376, 379, 715, 716, 731–32. The NAM, at the peak of its influence during the Truman Administration, even sought to educate Americans about their economy's beneficence through the pulpit, briefly sending a monthly magazine called Understanding to tens of thousands of clergy.

53 Hill, Richard Nelson, “The Joint Council on Economic Education: A Program For Curriculum Change” (dissertation, Duke University, 1980), 8; and Haig Babian, “Economic Literacy in a Free Society,” Challenge, March 1964.

54 Museum, Hagley and Library, Wilmington, DE: Joint Council on Economic Education Papers.

55 NYU Workshop on Economic Education, “Problems of Our American Economy” (1948); CED, “Improving Economic Understanding in the Public Schools” (1950), 3; and Hill, “The Joint Council on Economic Education: A Program For Curriculum Change,” 17–21. Starr said that “labor's stake in economic education is the indispensable base of intelligent citizenship in an advancing community;” quoted in CED, “Improving Economic Understanding in the Public Schools” (1950), 15. Former JCEE leaders argue that it was a nonpartisan organization and effort that simply sought to expand “economic literacy,” although they acknowledge that the Cold War did contribute to the movement's success. Interviews with Stowell Symmes, Williamsburg, VA, October 2, 2004; Mark Schug, February 7, 2005; and Leon Schur, February 15,2005.

56 Hoffman, , the president of Studebaker, was enormously influential in shaping postwar beliefs about the United States and its economy. A driving force behind the CED, Hoffman was a key leader of the Advertising Council, later president of the Ford Foundation, and the domestic administrator of the Marshall Plan. Benton was co-founder of the prominent advertising agency, Benton & Bowles, but also was a vice president of the University of Chicago, a Truman Administration appointee, publisher of the Encyclopedia Britannica, a delegate to several United Nations agencies, and a Democratic Senator from Connecticut from 1949 to 1953. Ruml, an economist, was a dean at the University of Chicago, an executive at Macy's, and a New Deal adviser who proposed income-tax withholding. James T. Howard, “Improving Economic Understanding in the Public Schools” (CED, 1950), 17.

57 Schriftgiesser, Karl, Business Comes of Age: The Story of the Committee for Economic Development and its Impact upon the Economic Policies of the United States, 1942–1960 (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1960), 27.

58 NYU Workshop on Economic Education, “Problems of Our American Economy” (1948); Baker, G. Derwood, “The Joint Council on Economic Education,” Journal of Educational Sociology 23, no. 7 (March 1950), pp. 389–96; and Interview with Stowell Symmes, Williamsburg, VA, October 2, 2004.

59 JCEE economist Lawrence Senesh described the four goals of economic education as promoting “growth, stability, security, and freedom.” Quoted in Bienvenu, Harold J., “Economic Education: Problems and Progress,” Elementary School Journal 59, no. 2 (November 1958), pp. 102. The JCEE's associate director, Edward J. Allen, said as much, asserting that economic understanding is essential to preserve freedom in our “most titanic struggle.” Edward J. Allen, “Program of the JCEE,” Journal of Higher Education 30, no. 2 (February 1959), pp. 94–98.

60 CED, “Improving Economic Understanding in the Public Schools” (1950), 8.

61 Senesh, Lawrence, quoted in Joint Economic Committee, subcommittee on economic progress. “Economic Education,” vol. II: “Related Materials” (1967).

62 Statement of Frankel, Dr. M. L., Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Economic Progress of the Joint Economic Committee, Congress of the United States, Economic Education, April 21, 1967, 58; and Interviews, Charles L. Schultze, Washington, DC, June 3, 2005; and Todd May, July 24, 2004.

63 Hill, , “The Joint Council on Economic Education: A Program for Curriculum Change,” 111.

64 Ibid., 62, 107, 115–16; and Stowell Symmes Interview, October 2, 2004.

65 Frankel led the organization well into the 1970s.

66 Joint Council on Economic Education, “Bibliography of Free and Inexpensive Materials for Economic Education” (1955). Some other titles included the Ad Council's “An Examination of the American Economic System,” the Chamber's “Free Markets and Free Men,” the NAM's “Industry's Goal: Building a Better America,” and materials by the Conference Board, the American Institute of Management, the CED, the American Bankers Association, Chase Manhattan, Standard Oil of New Jersey, US Steel, Ford, and Chrysler (“Modern Industry and Human Values”). Reprints of New York Times, Fortune, Saturday Review, Life (“U.S. Growth: Our Biggest Year”), and Business Week (“25 Years that Remade America”) were also included in the JCEE's bibliography.

67 Carskadon, Thomas R. and Modley, Rudolf, U.S.A. Measure of a Nation: A Graphic Presentation of America's Needs and Resources (New York: Twentieth Century Fund/The Macmillan Company, 1949), foreword, 1, 97, 98. Only incidentally, at the end, does the book suggest that we not “overlook in our national exuberance” other values such as relationships, art, and spiritual ideals.

68 Carskadon, Thomas R. and Soule, George, U.S.A. in New Dimensions: The Measure and Promise of America's Resources (New York: Twentieth Century Fund/The Macmillan Company, 1957), 120–24. This 124-page, illustrated booklet included the Fund's oft-repeated line: “Of all the great industrial nations, the one that clings most tenaciously to private capitalism has come closest to the socialist goal of providing abundance for all in a classless society.”

69 Twentieth Century Fund and Encyclopedia Britannica Films, “Productivity: Key to Plenty” (Chicago, 1951).

70 Kazanjian, , of the Peter Paul Mounds candy fortune, was a particularly active supporter of economic education.

71 Joint Council on Economic Education, “Bibliography of Free and Inexpensive Materials for Economic Education” (1957).

72 Ibid.

73 Moore, Colleen Ann, “The National Association of Manufacturers: The Voice of Industry and the Free Enterprise Campaign in the Schools, 1929–1949” (dissertation, University of Akron, 1985), 659.

74 Museum, Hagley and Library, Wilmington, DE: National Association of Manufacturers Records, 1917–70, Accession 1411, Series 6, Box 219; and CED, “Study Materials for Economic Education in the Schools” (October 1961); and Hagley, Joint Council on Economic Education Papers.

75 Museum, Hagley and Library, Wilmington, DE: National Association of Manufacturers Records, 1917–70, Accession 1411, Series 6, Box 99.

76 McKee, C. W. and Moulton, H. G., A Survey of Economic Education (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 1951).

77 CED Study Materials for Economic Education in the Schools,” October 1961.

78 Leamer, Laurence E. and Thomson, Dorothy Lampen, American Capitalism: An Introduction (New York: Council for Advancement of Secondary Education, 1958, 1968), 2, 62, 77, 89, 22.

79 Personal papers of JCEE, Stowell Symmes;, “Our Growing America,” Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, DE: Joint Council on Economic Education Papers; and CED, “Study Materials for Economic Education in the Schools,” October 1961.

80 Joint Council on Economic Education, “Education for the Economic Challenges of Tomorrow: A Report of a Symposium in Conjunction with the 10th Anniversary of the JCEE, 1949–1959” (New York, 1959).

81 Ibid., 21. Bower, Marvin, managing director of McKinsey, echoed this message.

82 CED, “Economic Education in the Schools” (National Task Force on Economic Education, September 1961), 7, 9, 15, 22, 43, 64–78. Task force members included Paul Samuelson, the JCEE's M. L. Frankel, and longtime economic education advocate and Stanford economist G. L. Bach.

83 Schriftgiesser, Karl, Business and Public Policy: The Role of the Committee for Economic Development, 1942–1967 (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1967), 209–10.

84 Bach, G.L., “Economics in the High Schools,” American Economic Review 51, no. 2 (1961), 579–86; Olson, Paul R., “This Is Economics,” American Economic Review 51, no. 2 (1961), pp. 564–70; Ellis, Howard S., “This Is Economics,” American Economic Review 51, no. 2 (1961), pp. 571–78; Coleman, John R., “Economic Literacy: What Role for Television?” American Economic Review 53, no. 2 (1963), pp. 645–52; Stigler, George J., “Discussion,” American Economic Review 53, no. 2 (1963), pp. 23–25; and Wagner, Lewis E., “Task Force to Classroom.” American Economic Review 53, no. 2 (1963), pp. 660–73. As longtime economic-education proponent and University of Wisconsin professor Leon Schur said, the task force report made economic education more respectable among economists; Interview with Leon Schur, February 15, 2005; and Interview with Stowell Symmes, October 2, 2004.

85 Coleman, John R., “Economic Literacy: What Role for Television?” American Economic Review 53, no. 2 (May 1963), pp. 645–52; Learning Resources Institute, “Prospectus for ‘The American Economy',” Dec. 1961 and March 20, 1962, in Departments and Agencies: Council of Economic Advisers, Box 73, Kennedy, John F. Presidential Library, Boston, MA; Statement of Dr. M. L. Frankel, Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Economic Progress of the Joint Economic Committee, Congress of the United States, Economic Education, April 21, 1967, 59; Karl Schriftgiesser, Business and Public Policy: The Role of the Committee for Economic Development, 1942–1967 (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1967), 209–10; and Interview with Stowell Symmes, October 2, 2004. JFK's Secretary of Commerce Luther Hodges lauded the series in a January 15, 1963 speech, urging all adults to watch; Vital Speeches XXIX, no. 9, 288.

86 Personal papers of Stowell Symmes; and Statement of Lawrence Senesh, Professor of Economic Education, Purdue University, Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Economic Progress of the Joint Economic Committee, Congress of the United States, Economic Education, April 17, 1967, 41. By 1989, DEEP was in 1,836 school districts covering 39 percent of America's students; Walstad, William B. and Soper, John C., “Effective Economic Education in the Schools” (JCEE, 1991), in Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, DE: Joint Council on Economic Education Papers.

87 Joint Economic Committee, hearings of the subcommittee on economic progress, Economic Education, April 14, 17, 21, 1967, and vol. II; Related Materials. Statement of Marvin Bower, managing director, McKinsey & Co., 29–31. Witnesses included economist and CEA member James Duesenberry, several businessmen, a union official, school officials, and economic education leaders such as M. L. Frankel, Lawrence Senesh, and Leon Schur.

88 Interview with Schug, Mark, February 7,2005. Walstad estimated that 29 percent of high school students were taking economics by 1987; Walstad, “Economic Instruction in the High Schools.”

89 Interview with Symmes, Stowell, October 2, 2004; Walstad, William B., “Economic Instruction in the High Schools,” Journal of Economic Literature 30, no. 4 (December 1992), pp. 2019–51; Hill, Richard Nelson, “The Joint Council on Economic Education: A Program For Curriculum Change” (dissertation, Duke University, 1980).

90 Interviews with Schug, Mark, February 7, 2005; Schur, Leon, February 15, 2005; and Symmes, Stowell, October 2, 2004. The JCEE changed its name to Economics America/the National Council on Economic Education in 1992. The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association estimates that 700,000 high school students now play the stock market game. See www.stockmarketgame.org.

91 See Senior Scholastic, “Special Issue: The American Economy 1962—From Main Street to Wall Street,” April 18, 1962.

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