To Learn Basic Economic Institutions or River Society Rulers?

An economics teacher at a good San Diego private high school emails about his students’ illiteracy on basic economic matters:

The thing that’s most remarkable to me is students’ lack of knowledge of organizations and basic economic institutions (as opposed to theories, which they can swallow quite readily).

The students did not know that private schools did not need to hire credentialed teachers.

We’ve covered Social Security. They didn’t know what a payroll tax was, what % it is for SSI, what % for Medicare, that there’s an earnings cap for the tax, when SS started, how it works, why there’s a crisis and what might be done to bring it back in balance.

They didn’t know what Prop 13 (CA) was. They didn’t know that laws are made by ballot and by legislature. Nor the structure of courts, from district to appelate to supreme. Federal v state laws/courts.

They didn’t know how a city’s school lottery works, nor how much $$ is spent per student in public schools versus private.

I have nothing against ancient Mesopotamia. But when kids know the names of river society rulers of 3000 BC but don’t know whether you can foreclose on a house without taking personal bankruptcy–indeed have no idea what the issue even is–it’s a weird world.

And if the conversation turned to personal financial matters — checking accounts, stocks, bonds, etc — I’m sure the picture wouldn’t be any prettier.

This teacher claims to teach at one of the best high schools in the country. He adds:

I continue to be fascinated that perhaps the two major groups of subjects in today’s world–law/economics/government/administration/finance and engineering/design/architecture–have essentially not made their way into school curricula. Even at the best private schools, which ought to have the flexibility, and ought to seek a market niche. Instead, schools all do almost exactly the same thing.

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