|Economists: teaching economic models for the math, not the economics.|
Bill Craighead, a professor at Miami University in Ohio, wrote a post that Mark Thoma linked to (Prof. Craighead, get ready for a few thousand more pageviews) about the value of the undergrad intro to economics series. He (Craighead) was arguing the counterpoint to Noah Smith's attack on the intro series.
We have a lot of macro theories, but none that really work well unless you pick your data set very carefully and squint very hard. ... And to make it worse, most of the macro theories that economists take halfway seriously are too hard for intro kids, so they end up learning silly stuff like Mundell-Fleming and Keynesian Cross that no one even halfway believes.
One of Craighead's defenses is a bit silly, though:
Second, working with economic models develops thinking and mathematical skills. Smith makes the point that the models we teach in an intro class have their flaws (as do the models we teach in PhD-level classes...), though I still think they're quite useful for thinking about a number of issues. But the act of manipulating a model and working out how assumptions are linked to conclusions helps students become sharper thinkers, and this stays with them long after they've forgotten the specifics of any particular model.
Call me old-fashioned, but mathematical skills are best taught in math class. And if the content of the models doesn't matter (and even economists don't believe them), why not teach some models without flaws that are actually pretty accurate that are believed by their practitioners ... like undergraduate physics. Have one of these people teach how to build and use models!
Why has economics taken upon itself to teach undergraduates how to use models and derive them from assumptions? No offense, but economics is the last field that comes to mind for this task. Especially since economists tend to sneak political bias in with those assumptions ...
It's like teaching people how to work on car engines using movie props. But students learn motor skills and how to think in 3-dimensions ...