Economists, that is. For the first time in a couple years, I attended the ASSAs, and for the first time in even more years, I interacted with some economists who are not involved with either ed policy (my research home) or teaching. Ugh, lesson learned. I had somehow forgotten that the majority of people in this discipline (or at least, the majority of those who go to the ASSAs) are white male blowhards who actually think all the math they make grad students do is useful (NOTE: I am totally not talking about YOU, awesome person who reads my blog - I am absolutely certain that no one who is a math-obsessed blowhard would find my blog remotely interesting :-)).
I guess I should take it as reassuring that I managed to forget what the 'typical economist' is like; certainly 20 years ago, when I was in my grad program at Wisconsin, I was very, VERY aware of it. But ed policy is one of those applied micro fields that is pretty equally gender balanced (particularly at the Association of Education Finance and Policy, my research home, which attracts both economists and ed school people), not to mention attracting economists who actually understand market failures and who are interested in social justice; similarly, econ ed is also quite gender-balanced, and most people interested in teaching are also interested in (or at least aware of) diversity issues. And economists interested in teaching tend to recognize that making mathematical models as complicated as possible is NOT the way to turn on undergrads to the awesomeness of our subject. So over the years, I've managed to insulate myself from many of the aspects of this discipline that I hate and the fact that I could do that does give me hope.
But the reality that struck me at the conference is that in many ways, the discipline hasn't changed at all in 20 years (longer - I read Colander's Making of an Economist in the early 90's) and that makes me despair a bit. How can we ever really move the needle of public perceptions (and
misconceptions) about our field if those at the leading econ programs
can't even recognize or admit there is anything wrong with what they are doing? Graduate school, in any field, is an indoctrination process so those who survive tend to have an inherent interest in defending and sustaining what they have been taught; although people who think differently might be able to find each other in the aftermath, it's hard to see how the cycle itself can be disrupted on a large scale.
That doesn't mean I'm throwing in the towel and will now start teaching all my classes with calculus and no intuition. I do think there have been small changes - when I tell people I'm an economist, one in three might now mention Freakonomics instead of the stock market or GDP, and many fewer seem to be surprised that an economist is working on education policy. And the growing number of economists interested in teaching is awesome. So I can't despair completely. And maybe it's good to be reminded every once in a while that there IS still much work to be done - maybe it will even motivate me to blog a little more often :-)...
Am I wrong? Has economics changed more than I think it has?
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