Economics through Experience

Learning complex systems through simulations.

Exploration of social contract theory raises the questions of why we have governments.

Analyzing different types of governments is the next step towards understanding the world around us.

Before launching into American history and government it is critical to define economic systems and types of governments that exist around the world. Students generally do not have an understanding that the world does not reflect their lives.

The American system of government is unique, but because they live within it they do not realize that the majority of humanity lives under different conditions. Broadening the view of the world entails students learning the differences between economic and government systems.

Teaching economic systems for understanding necessitates that students must be engaged in an experience.To engage students so that they are truly participating is making them the main players.

Creating a game and competition always livens up the lesson. Students are members of an economic system and their currency is Hershey kisses. In non-pandemic years we play with actual candy. This year we played with plastic tokens, used purell in between rounds and sanitized our tokens. Students were promised that they could trade in their tokens for Hershey Kisses at the end of the game. The competition became fierce. 

Students are actors in a market place. They must participate, but the only real rules are they if they lose in a game of rock, paper, scissors they must give up a token. I will play the role of the government. My role will change through each version.

Our social experiment begins with students playing rock, paper scissors in a free market. Students are free to interact with any member in the room. There are no price limits, or boundaries. Students can win big or fail miserably. When they come to me (the government) I just shrug and move on.

After a five minute experience students enter a group discussion to evaluate the experience. Some have many tokens, a few have none. We discuss what this means for society.

What are the pros and cons of this system?

What places in the world does this remind us of?

Students actively debate their questions and raise deeply thought-out and powerful points. My job is not to enter this discussion. Only to clarify and add facts when necessary. The students drive the discussion. 

We repeat this simulation two more times. Each time the role of government changes. In one experience we agree upon shared interest and enter the market place. As the government I take a few tokens from those that have the most, ensure that others always have pieces to play with and take some for the agreed upon interests.

In the final experience we agree upon some shared interests, but as government I take all profits and equally redistribute them.

Each time students reflect upon the actions taken. They lead the class discussion with thoughtful questions about what they have heard in the media and from their families. They respectfully question each other’s ideologies without much input from me. In fact the only time I enter the conversation is to give historical context to the discussion.

This experience is not meant to change minds or influence students, but to give them a hands on experience with words that become incredibly convoluted in the press.

The discussions and civilized arguments do not end when the bell rings. They will and should carry on throughout the year as our studies of the American system of government and the world evolve.

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