This caught my eye the other week in a review of a new book in the Guardian. Something seems to have gone very wrong with how people are taught Economics.
The authors analysed 174 economics modules for seven Russell Group [i.e top tier UK] universities, making this the most comprehensive curriculum review I know of. Focusing on the exams that undergraduates were asked to prepare for, they found a heavy reliance on multiple choice. The vast bulk of the questions asked students either to describe a model or theory, or to show how economic events could be explained by them. Rarely were they asked to assess the models themselves. In essence, they were being tested on whether they had memorised the catechism and could recite it under invigilation.
Critical thinking is not necessary to win a top economics degree. Of the core economics papers, only 8% of marks awarded asked for any critical evaluation or independent judgment. At one university, the authors write, 97% of all compulsory modules “entailed no form of critical or independent thinking whatsoever”.
I doubt it’s any better in the US. Indeed, there’s been hard evidence at times that Ph.D programs at the top US graduate schools go out of their way to discourage creative questions, and narrowly focus on “puzzle-solving” – manipulating models with analytical brilliance – instead. People are increasingly not taught to think through assumptions or question the boundaries and limits of the models. That’s how you go extinct.