Economics at Stuyvesant: The Place for Personal Finance?
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Economics is a required course for a New York State high school diploma, counting for half a credit out of the mandated 44. At Stuyvesant, the offered courses which fulfill that requirement include a general Economics course or the equivalent AP Macroeconomics and AP Microeconomics, each a single semester course.
Stuyvesant has a uniform curriculum for Economics, but teachers have the freedom to personalize their lesson plans to focus on certain topics. This is a reason why there is no uniform Economics final for students. “We more or less know what we’re supposed to teach but there’s a lot of individual freedom for each teacher to decide their own content and what they want to focus on,” Economics teacher David Wang said. “I think it’s good that we have a variety of different curriculums as opposed to [a] one-size-fits-all thing. This way teachers can teach what they’re interested in and, for the most part, that should bring out the best in them.”
Many students taking Economics agree that the class differed from their expectations. Though Economics is currently categorized as a social studies class, it still retains a focus on mathematics. “[I think] there's a common misconception that economics class is very social-studies heavy,” senior Maya Dunayer, who took AP Macroeconomics during the fall semester and currently takes AP Microeconomics, said. “I'm more of a humanities person myself. It's definitely more math-based than I thought it was.”
Across the board, many students echo the sentiment of expecting a class focused on the application and use of economics. However, since economics covers a broad range of topics, many students were surprised at the class’s curriculum. While Economics is considered a social studies class, the course includes several mathematical topics as well. “I know a little bit more about what interest rates are and some things about the economy, like inflation and deflation,” senior Grace Chen said, who took the course in her junior year during remote learning.
The class also addresses various real-world concepts, though in a simplified form. “I do think that the basic concepts that we’re learning can be applied. And hopefully, later on in further studies in [Economics], there'll be more applicable stuff,” Dunayer said. “It's a pretty good foundational type of thing.”
Economics relates current events subjects to the curriculum, as junior Somaia Sultana mentions. “We're learning about demand curves, supply curves, and why certain product prices rise. [We spent] a while on Ukraine and the war and how it's affecting economics,” she said.
The theme of current events is typically common within all Economics classes; however, there is a distinction between regular and AP Economics classes. “We all try to connect it to current events. I would say I’m more of an in-between ground between an AP class and regular AP classes,” Wang said. “The APs focus a lot on economic theory and the textbook but the regular ones focus more on current events and topical topics. I touch a little bit here and there [on] personal finance and what I think might be useful.”
Though students find Economics classes to be relevant, the classes do not extend their scope into helping students understand managing money in their daily lives. “I think it’s more applicable than other history classes, but it’s not like we’re learning about opening bank accounts and stuff,” Chen said. “I think we kind of did personal finance a little bit,” she added. “We learned microeconomics, which is like personal stuff, so I think we did learn some stuff related to personal finance.”
Sultana has also felt concerned about not learning enough personal finance. “I definitely do think that I'm learning stuff, but [Economics] would definitely use a bit more material like [...] credit and how taxes work and how to file taxes. We don’t think about [those topics] right now, and it’s just like how are you supposed to learn that?” However, the belief that microeconomics is the same as personal finance is a common misconception. Microeconomics focuses on how business decisions impact the economy and focuses on incentives and behaviors, utility theory, production theory, and price theory. Meanwhile, personal finance focuses on how an individual manages, saves, and invests money.
The lack of personal finance content can be attributed to the fact that students are not required to learn it. “Some classes touch upon personal finance. And sometimes, maybe like in AP classes, you don't touch on it at all, just there’s no time. So it really depends on the class and the teacher,” Wang said. “Overall, I think there’s not enough of it because it’s not a requirement. We don’t treat it like we treat science or English and have a requirement to say this is what you must know, before you graduate and become an adult.”
Senior Katherine Lake also expressed her doubts about incorporating financial literacy into these courses. “There [are] some basic budgeting ideas in [AP Microeconomics]. But it has nothing to do with financial literacy. So at least in Micro, it has no space. And I think Macro is more focused on general global interactions with different markets with different products. And I also don't think it's appropriate there. So I feel like it would need its own course,” she said.
Others have also expressed concern about how economics is a one-semester course, and so there would not be enough time to cover personal finance topics in a helpful way. “If you’re going to incorporate it into a one semester econ, you can’t get deep enough for you to actually use it for your personal gain and the future,” said senior Jonathan Ho. To him, Economics is a finance class geared towards learning the most basic economics of the world rather than deeper, specific topics that would be explored in college-level courses.
Students agree that Economics is not the ideal platform through which personal finance education should be delivered, since the topic would not mesh well with the rest of the course curriculum. At the same time, some feel that there is a need for greater opportunities for financial education at Stuyvesant. “[Economics has] such an overreaching curriculum. We have such limited time that I don't know where it would fit in,” Dunayer said. “But I do think more classes like Personal Finance, which I didn't get a chance to take but I really wanted to, would be useful for incorporating financial literacy into Stuyvesant students’ everyday lives.”