Economics and Sustainability


"Students must understand that the ideas people profess affect their behavior. Students should understand the connection between ideas and actions, between ideology and policy, between policy and practice."

California State History/Social Science Framework

As we approach a new millennium, many of the assumptions that have guided our economy through the last 100 years of industrial expansion are coming into question. Environmental problems, growing gaps between the rich and poor, and increasingly stressful lifestyles beg us to ask whether the goals of growth and efficiency will provide for the common good as many have assumed they would.

In 1987, the World Commission on Environment and Development issued a report titled Our Common Future, suggesting we make a global shift from an economic emphasis on growth to one of sustainability. They defined sustainability as economic development that does not jeopardize the health of the environment or the lives of future generations. Since then conferences in Rio and Kyoto have focused on similar concerns. And, in the U.S., the Clinton Administration established the President's Council on Sustainability.

In such an atmosphere of reflection and change, it seems only fair that we offer young people of today an economics course that teaches more than the mechanics of the market economy. The goals of this curriculum are:

· to promote an understanding of the assumptions and values that underlie the free market economy;

· to articulate the relationship between our economy and contemporary global issues (environment, poverty, war . . .)

· to provide examples of constructive ideas and projects that have been developed to create a more sustainable economy.

The curriculum functions as a supplement to any standard high school economics text. Its aim is not to replace the task of teaching standard economic concepts, but to create a framework for examining the ethical implications of these concepts and the possibilities for reform. Throughout all these lessons, students should be asked, "Is ________ sustainable? How can __________ be sustainable?"

Lastly, this curriculum strives to make economics exciting by placing it where it belongs: in the midst of the most profound and pressing questions of our day.

Note: In order to encourage paper conservation, materials and handouts are double-sided and use small margins and fonts where possible. Please conserve paper in your class by double-siding handouts. collecting from students handouts that you will use again, using one class set of handouts with many classes and using other creative ideas to conserve. Set a good example for your students.

How this curriculum was developed . . .

This curriculum originated in the early 1990s when a group of seven economics teachers from around the San Francisco Bay Area joined with the Center for Economic Conversion to develop a curriculum that would make economics interesting and relevant to teachers and students alike. The curriculum has since been revised and updated in 1994, 1998 and 1999.

To make the curriculum as complete as possible, and to promote community dialogue on the issue of sustainable economics, a diverse group of advisors has been consulted, among them a Jungian psychologist, a local congressperson, the director of a national environmental organization and a philosopher of economics. In recent years, fresh insights from high school teachers of economics have also been added.

The following assumptions were agreed on and have provided the foundation for the work on this curriculum:

· Sustainability should replace growth as the primary goal of modern economies.

· Ecological health and social welfare should be included in economic accounting systems, not seen as externalities.

· Ethical decision making and critical thinking are important parts of the education of secondary students.

Because these assumptions are different from those of standard economic texts, they may help students broaden the range of options from which they will be making ethical and economic decisions.

We are always open to suggestions about ways to improve this curriculum. Please send your comments to:

Joan Holtzman, Ph.D.

Sustainable Economics Project

Center for Economic Conversion

222 View Street

Mountain View, CA 94041




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