On School’s Function

Is school more for helping students learn about the world, or more for showing and encouraging good behavior? This NYT oped by Yoram Bauman gives a hint:

When students went online to register for classes each quarter, they were asked if they wanted to donate $3 to support WashPIRG, a left-leaning activist group. Students were also asked if they wanted to donate $3 to Affordable Tuition Now (ATN), a group that lobbied for “sensible tuition rates, quality financial aid and adequate funding.” …

About 5 percent of economics majors donated to WashPIRG in a given quarter, compared with 8 percent for other arts and sciences majors. A similar divide — 10 percent versus almost 15 percent — occurred with respect to donations to ATN. … Taking economics classes [had] a significant negative effect on later giving by students who did not become economics majors. …

Our research suggests that economics education could do a better job of providing balance. Learning about the shortcomings as well as the successes of free markets is at the heart of any good economics education, and students — especially those who are not destined to major in the field — deserve to hear both sides of the story. (more)

So econ teaching should be changed because after taking econ classes students donate less to leftist political groups? Bauman does not bother to argue that econ classes teach falsehoods. He probably accepts the usual econ analysis suggesting that selfish folks might rather keep their money and hope others donate to worthy causes. No, apparently Bauman thinks it sufficient that he disapproves of the net effect of teaching truths — fewer donations go to political groups he favors. That must be stopped!

(Free market shortcomings are beside the point here. Most econ classes talk plenty about those, and they aren’t very relevant to the private vs. social value of donations.)

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