Do we need history and geography

Political education

Kerstin Pohl

Dr. Kerstin Pohl is professor for didactics of social studies / politics in Mainz. Doctorate and school service in Berlin. Focus in research and teaching: lesson planning, socio-theoretical basics and concepts of political education.

Do we need our own subject economics or are economic content better off in an integrative subject for political education? There has been a controversy about this in recent years, some of which has been carried out as a bitter dispute.

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Good reasons for more economic education

The subject of economics is firmly anchored in vocational schools as an independent subject. In general education schools in Baden-Württemberg, there has been an independent compulsory subject "Business / Career and Study Orientation" (WBS) since 2017. Most of the other federal states integrate the content of economic education primarily into the subject of political education, which, depending on the state, is called, for example, "political education", "politics", "social studies" or "social sciences". The technical terms "politics and economics" or "politics / economics" are also used more and more frequently. In this text, this subject is called "political education" following the recommendation of the Society for Political Didactics and Political Youth and Adult Education (GPJE) (GPJE 2004, p. 12).

Regardless of whether in the context of the subject "Political Education" or as an independent subject: There are convincing reasons for good economic education at general schools. For example, numerous studies show that there are gaps in the population's economic knowledge (cf. May 2011, p. 3). The importance of the economy is increasing because more and more areas of life are being economized and, as a result of increasing economic globalization, state and supranational political actors are becoming more dependent on markets, as can be seen, for example, in dealing with "systemically important banks" during the financial crisis could (see e.g. Detjen / Kruber 2007, p. 29 and Retzmann et al. 2009/2010, p. 15).

New subjects for school or would you prefer cross-sectional tasks?

But do we therefore need a separate subject in economics? And which other subjects then have to give up lessons for a new subject in economics? That is a difficult question. Other important contents are also not represented in the school in the form of independent subjects. Don't we really also need a subject “health”, a subject “nutrition” or a subject “sustainability” (cf. Famulla et al. 2011, p. 51, Hedtke 2012, p. 2)?

Just like health, nutrition and sustainability, however, economic content is already being addressed in general schools today. On the one hand, they are an indispensable part of the subject for political education - even if it is only called "Politics" or "Social Studies" and not "Politics and Economics": Just as politics intervenes in the economy in many ways through laws and subsidies, Economic actors and interests play a decisive role in political processes. In addition, economic factors determine the political scope for action. Therefore: "Politics and economy are so closely interdependent that neither politics without economy nor economy without politics can be understood" (GPJE 2004, p. 10). [1]

On the other hand, economic content is also addressed in other subjects in the established canon - especially in the other two social science subjects, geography and history. Especially federal states that do not want to introduce a separate subject economics in general schools often argue that economics education is a cross-sectional task to which all subjects contribute.

Especially recently, economic content in schools has been booming: There are more and more competitions for economic education, projects for entrepreneurship education and practical contacts between schools and the entrepreneurial economy, through which economic education at general schools is to be strengthened (cf. B. Hedtke 2011, p. 7).

Arguments for a separate subject

Overall, it can be said that economic content is also present in general schools without an independent subject of economics. But whether this is sufficient is a matter of dispute. Above all, business and employer associations (cf. Hedtke 2012), but also parents and teachers' associations, are calling for an independent subject of economics to be taught (cf. May 2011, p. 3). Business educators give the following arguments in particular, many of which are also addressed in the podcast interviews with Markus Böhner and Roland Happ (see also Retzmann et al. 2010, pp. 71-75; Wuttke / Minnameier 2014; Kaminski 2009; Kaminski / Loerwald 2017; Kaminski 2017, pp. 379-383):

Audio interview: Prof. Dr. Markus Böhner on economics as a separate subject (to the podcast with project information)
Business classes at vocational schools or as an elective have been around for a long time. Economics is the exception to the rule at general schools. Most of the time, economic content is taught primarily in the subjects of politics / social studies, geography, history and work studies. Is that enough, or do we need a separate subject in economics, with teachers who have studied economics? (© Johannes-Gutenberg University Mainz)

Audio interview: Dr. Roland Happ on economic or socio-economic education (to the podcast with project information in the media library)
What should business classes look like? Should financial education, economic and business management content be the focus, or do we need socio-economic education that always considers the economy in the context of politics and society? And what role does political theory play in this context? (© Johannes-Gutenberg University Mainz)

  • Only a separate subject ensures that binding time quotas are available for economic education and that economic content is taught continuously and in a structured manner, not fragmented in several other subjects.
  • Only if there is an independent subject economics at schools will universities also offer undergraduate courses in economics for prospective teachers. This is necessary because economic issues are complex and therefore a well-founded technical and didactic training of the teachers is required.
  • Only the existence of an independent subject in economics will lead to the establishment of more didactic professorships through which the necessary research on economic education can be ensured.
  • Other necessary changes, which can only be achieved if there is an independent subject of economics, are, for example, the development of suitable textbooks for general schools, the implementation of national comparative studies or the strengthening of teacher training.
  • Finally, even the critic of an independent subject, economics, Birgit Weber, argues that the social science subjects "tend to focus on conflicts of interest between economic or political or social or ecological design" - "sometimes without addressing the underlying economic functional mechanisms must "(Weber 2017, p. 101). She adds that the disparate allocation of economic content to different subjects in the various federal states and school types cannot guarantee that all pupils will deal with the central questions of the economy (cf. ibid., Pp. 101-102).

The importance of economics for economic education or:
A plea for an economic headlight

In addition to these arguments, which are aimed at strengthening economic education, the proponents of a separate subject of economics usually also plead for greater consideration of economics as a reference discipline in economic education. They give the following arguments for this:

Economics does not differ from the other social sciences primarily in terms of other content, but primarily in terms of the specific focus on reality. Günter Seeber and others speak of a specific "headlight" based on Karl Popper, which determines what one perceives of the complex reality and what one fades out (Seeber et al. 2012, p. 70). The economic spotlight particularly highlights the efficiency of human activity. This is expressed in the "homo oeconomicus" model.

Another specific feature of economics, which can only be systematically conveyed in an independent subject, economics, is the mapping of economic thinking in the simplest possible models in order to represent processes of action in a generalized form and to examine the specific influence of economic variables such as prices or consumption quantities on economic developments ( see Retzmann et al. 2009/2010, p. 34).

Economic education is not only aimed at responsible economic citizens (see civic models in political education), but also responsible consumers and employees who can move safely in the relevant markets (Retzmann et al. 2019/2010: 15) . In his podcast, Roland Happ criticizes the neglect of "financial education" at general schools, which is aimed primarily at responsible consumers. In relation to the educational goal of "responsible consumers", Markus Böhner cites as examples the need to address private old-age provision as well as the opportunities and risks of electronic payment transactions. In science, all of these are primarily economic issues.

Even if it makes sense to look at economic topics from a multiple perspective from the perspective of all social sciences, the following applies to economic education: "Multiperspectivity requires perspectives" and for this a subject economics with a clear reference to economics must make the subject-specific contribution (Loewald 2011, p . 12, see also Wuttke / Minnameier 2014, p. 2). The subject German is also not abolished with the argument that the promotion of language competence is a cross-sectional task of all subjects at school (ibid., P. 10).

Criticism of the economic headlight

These arguments for an independent economic education in a separate subject of economics are opposed to the arguments for an integrative approach, according to which economic content should be taught in an integrative subject of "political education" or "social sciences". Proponents of such integration use the term "socio-economic education" for their approach - deliberately differentiating it from what they consider mainstream economic education. They call for economic, social and political aspects and their mutual dependencies to be discussed in a common subject They accuse those in favor of an economic education that is primarily oriented towards economics, that they view reality with too narrow, "economist" glasses and that they also want to wear these glasses on the learners. Tim Engartner put it provocatively in the podcast interview (see below): "Someone who considers all situations in life purely economically [...] is not economically educated, but educated economically". They understand "socio-economic education" as an "application of social science Education on the subject area of ​​economics, ”writes Reinhold Hedtke in his presentation of a“ core curriculum for socio-economic education ”(2018, p. 6). The fact that this core curriculum was created on behalf of the union-related Hans Böckler Foundation and that the German Trade Union Confederation has also been critical of an independent subject economics for several years (see DGB Federal Executive Committee 2012) shows that there are also political differences between the two camps.
An important background to the dispute is that the critics of an economic education oriented towards economics, especially in Germany, are critical of economics: They accuse the mainstream of economics, like Tim Engartner in the podcast, of being uncritical, neoclassical To operate model economics that do not do justice to the diversity of economic theories. In research, in policy advice and also in the training of prospective teachers, this leads to a shortened view of reality. For criticism see e.g. the homepage of the "Netzwerk Plurale Ökonomik"

The advocates of "socio-economic education" put forward the following arguments against the current concepts for a separate subject of economics (cf. especially Hedtke et al. 2010):

Audio interview: Prof. Dr. Reinhold Hedtke on economics as a separate subject (to the podcast with project information)
Business classes at vocational schools or as an elective have been around for a long time. Economics is the exception to the rule at general schools. Most of the time, economic content is taught primarily in the subjects of politics / social studies, geography, history and work studies. Is that enough, or do we need a separate subject in economics, with teachers who have studied economics? (© Johannes-Gutenberg University Mainz)

Audio interview: Prof. Dr. Tim Engartner on economic or socio-economic education (to the podcast with project information)
What should business classes look like? Should financial education, economic and business management content be the focus, or do we need socio-economic education that always considers the economy in the context of politics and society? And what role does political theory play in this context? (© Johannes-Gutenberg University Mainz)

  • Especially in the expert opinion by Thomas Retzmann, which is very important for the debate, among others, on behalf of the Joint Committee of German Business and the Central Association of German Crafts, there is a reductionist understanding of business: there is a narrowing to the measure of efficiency, through which the ethical dimensions of Conflicts are neglected. In his podcast interview, Tim Engartner therefore calls for a reflection on which domains of society should not be permeated by the economic principle of efficiency - he cites the health sector as an example (cf. also Hedtke et al. 2010).
  • Political and social aspects of economic issues are often not taken into account, according to those who criticize them. "A separate subject, mainly based on economics, symbolizes the capitalist market economy 's claim to autonomy in relation to democratic politics" even writes Reinhold Hedtke (2012, p. 1).
  • In this context, the focus on consumer education is also criticized, as this is often primarily designed as an individual "help in life": the learners would then be prepared, for example - according to the example given by Reinhold Hedtke in his podcast interview - under given offers to choose the optimal mobile phone contract for yourself. However, they did not critically deal with how the rights and obligations are distributed between providers and customers when the contract is concluded and which interest groups would exert political influence on corresponding legal regulations for consumer protection with what prospects for success. The social and the political Dimension would be neglected here.
  • The entrepreneurial economy tries in many ways to influence economic education and is also successful in this. In economic education, teaching materials are often used by business associations that unilaterally focus on the employers' point of view and thereby violate the law of controversy of the Beutelsbach consensus (see e.g. Engartner 2013). The report by Retzmann and others is also criticized for the fact that it was drawn up on behalf of an important political actor, the Joint Committee of German Business, who was thus pursuing specific political interests, which contradicts independent scientific expertise. Hedtke et al. (2010) therefore consistently speak of an "association report".

Is the criticism justified?

In 2000, a memorandum initiated, among other things, by the Federation of German Employers expressly called for the strengthening of socio-economic education: A subject economics should include an in-depth "interdisciplinary treatment of economic, social, political, legal, ecological and technical relationships in the economic and employment system enable the analysis of current economic and political problems ”and convey“ knowledge, especially in economics and the social sciences ”(Memorandum 2000, pp. 4-5). [2]
Today, the terms economic and socio-economic education have become controversial concepts. Nevertheless, the supporters of economic education contradict many points of criticism from the camp of socio-economic education. They claim that their approach to economic education also takes into account the imperative of controversy and also includes political and social aspects. Roland Happ emphasizes in his podcast interview that the "moral judgment" is the goal of every economic education, and Markus Böhner considers an integrative social science perspective to be useful for at least some economic issues. The representatives also disagree with the other allegations mentioned above a separate subject economics. For example, the German Society for Economic Education expressly calls for a critical handling of freely accessible teaching materials and Dirk Loerwald demands a reflection on all practical contacts in the classroom - although he considers manipulation attempts to be an exception ( Hedkte / Loerwald 2017, p. 30).

Conclusion: A complex topic requires a differentiated view

Tim Engartner does not want to condemn the concepts of economic education criticized by socio-economic education in the podcast interview, but speaks of a critical "mainstream" of economic education, which is based on the "neoclassical standard economy" and to which the above-mentioned allegations apply . This means that the critics from socio-economic education also admit that the approaches to economic education can be quite different. Which points of criticism apply to which approach, and also where the criticism of the representatives of socio-economic education is perhaps exaggerated, must be examined on a case-by-case basis. If you ignore the polemics and the sometimes exaggerated mutual criticism in the dispute, you will nevertheless find considerable differences. Therefore, it is also very likely that in a separate subject of economics, which is taught by teachers with a corresponding undergraduate degree in economics, economic content is not only treated more intensively, but also in terms of content differently than is the case in an integrative subject of political education or social sciences is.


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