Barnard Professors Help Revolutionize the Economics Curriculum

economicseducation In the wake of the unpredicted worldwide financial crisis that began in 2008, and in response to critics—many of them current students—who complain that the concepts they’ve learned don’t always apply to a post-2008 world, economists began to reevaluate not just the content but also the delivery method of the classic economics curriculum.

Professor Rajiv Sethi is part of an international group of scholars involved with the CORE (Curriculum Open-access Resources in Economics) Project; they have created an innovative curriculum and accompanying interactive (and free) e-book that frames basic economics concepts in light of current trends in technological innovation, environmental sustainability, and various forms of inequality. In March, Sethi received a Teagle Foundation grant to establish the first branch of CORE in the United States; he and Assistant Professors of Economics Homa Zarghamee and Belinda Archibong will build a coalition of faculty members and graduate students to engage with the new material and further develop it for widespread use.

Zarghamee recently wrote in the academic news outlet The Conversation that one of those inequalities—gender inequality—has meant that an estimated 300,000 women in the United States alone have forgone studies and careers in economics due to rampant sexism in the field. A motivator for the project, she said, was to find out “if radically new content in first year economics courses can get the missing women back” by engaging them in real-world economic and social problems.

Another article, in The New Yorker, examines the curriculum’s delivery method. Traditionally, economics textbooks begin with lengthy explanations of general doctrines and move to modern-day applications later, leaving students confused when they see free-market principles fail in a world of uneven progress and wealth distribution. Instead, CORE is lauded for its multiple discussions of the causes and consequences of innovation, globalization, environmental change, and historic economic crises. The CORE project is also praised for the variety of scholars who contributed, including Sethi, Associate Professor of Economics Suresh Naidu from Columbia University, and scholars not only from Western Europe and the United States but also from South America, the Middle East, and Asia.

In interviews with The Economist, Sethi and Zarghamee note the benefits of teaching the curriculum. While the old model can be frustrating for both students and teachers due to its insistence on economic principles that often only exist in a vacuum, CORE is designed to address common exceptions to these principles from the start. Sethi remarked that the new method feels more “honest” to him and paints a realistic picture of what an economist’s work looks like, and Zarghamee pointed out that even students who do not complete the course will still walk away with a better understanding of the field due to its comprehensive, global focus.

Zarghamee has also written two articles for the CORE website that analyze the gender gap in the economics field. They may be viewed here and here.

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