It is doubtful that most Michigan teenagers receive even a basic understanding of economic principles from the textbooks they use in class, according to a new survey released by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
The survey authors judged 16 textbooks commonly used in Michigan schools according to how well they covered 12 major subject areas, such as the price system, taxation, the business cycle, trade and tariffs, income distribution, and others.
"While a few of the textbooks did instill 'an economic way of thinking' about problems, most of the texts were partly and sometimes almost completely deficient," conclude Burton Folsom, senior fellow in economic education at the Center, George Leef, vice president of the Pope Center for the Study of Higher Education in North Carolina, and Dirk Mateer, associate professor of economics at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. "We often found dismal understanding or outright bias on the part of the text authors," the survey team adds.
Three textbooks received A grades and three others earned Bs. However, three received Cs, five textbooks received a D, and two were given Fs.
"Michigan students sometimes read in their textbooks that competition is dangerous and causes economic problems, that Americans are undertaxed, that government spending creates wealth, and that politicians are better at economic planning than entrepreneurs," write the authors. Often, they note, students "are digesting the political opinions of authors with hidden and not-so-hidden agendas."
Some texts "are consistently critical of free enterprise and private property, yet present government intervention with little or no scrutiny," continue the authors. Books including Applying Economic Principles by Sanford D. Gordon and Alan Stafford, "provide the student with nothing but government solutions to policy issues."
The authors explain that "for a text to receive a high rating in this report, it was not necessary for it to expound an explicitly 'market-oriented' or 'free-market' message . . . . Good textbooks do not propound particular philosophies, but concentrate on teaching students how to think."
Which textbooks did a good job? Economics By Design by Robert A. Collinge and Ronald M. Ayers received an A-. "On almost every page it . . . trains students to look below the surface to perceive economic effects they would otherwise miss," say the authors. Economics Study Guide, published by Junior Achievement and used by more than 20,000 Michigan students in 1997, received a grade of B+.
"Our concern is to increase the level of economic understanding in Michigan high schools," say the authors. They recommend that all schools offer their students courses in economics, and that they use only those textbooks that received a high grade for accuracy, balance, clarity, and instruction in the "economic way of thinking."
Complete reviews of all 16 textbooks may be accessed via Intenet at www.mackinac.org/article.asp?ID=1803 or by calling (989) 631-0900. Educators are not charged.