This material gives way to many classroom activities, and the more interactive the better. For my classroom, students will engage in exercises to practice data interpretation and learning. They will participate in in-depth discourse regarding the state of inequality, the reasons for it, and what they believe can be done to balance it, particularly focused on what they themselves might be able to do. This section will list several of the activities we will execute, teachers may be interested or inspired to use them, expand upon them, or come up with their own.
Students will start each lesson with a quick journal write and share-out (as many of my classes begin anyway). Important starters for the unit will include (note: these necessarily encompass more than one class-day each, and are here bunched together for the sake of space):
First day: “What does the word ‘equality’ mean to you? ‘Inequality’?”
Subsequent/mid-unit days: “What do you think of measuring inequality on a scale of 0 to 1 (the Gini coefficient)? What do you think that says about the study of economics? Does it speak to the objectivity of it? Is that a good thing? Explain.”
“Why study inequality? Looking at the Atkinson graph showing world Gini coefficients, what do you think that means for how the world is ‘doing’? Does it strike you as unfair? Why do you think certain countries are more unequal than others? What do you think of where the U.S. places on this list?”
Final days: “What is the difference between opportunity and outcome? Economically speaking, do you think ensuring equality of outcome is as important as equality of opportunity? Why or why not? What do you think the role of education is in: the income we eventually make? The rates of inequality in America? Our ability to balance resources and income distribution?”
This unit is important for the opportunity to bridge disciplines. Economics is an analytical discipline which tackles philosophical considerations: i.e., uses data to explore how we choose to live, how it’s going, and how we could possibly change or improve upon it. It can be powerful for students in a mostly humanities-focused class to see that data found in tables and graphs hold a key role in exploring human activities, allowing us to explore ourselves and our societal decisions, through empirical evidence. Students will take time to read the graphs highlighted in this unit and more, assessing not only the significance of the information, but how well and straightforward it is presented in graphic form. They will also make their own graphs, charting information and presenting it to each other.
The Philosopher and the Scientist
A lot of our activities and discussions will center around the why in addition to the how and what. Students will be analyzing data and exploring themes of income inequality, while at the same time consistently asking the question of the material and of each other: is the attainment of wealth in conjunction with or in opposition to the attainment of happiness? Somewhere in between? While exploring these themes they will take a look at sources which help guide their development of opinions with information. There is an article in
which explores the views of Adam Smith with regard to modern inequality, and how that warps our views of the poor and rich. There is a documentary film that explores the qualities and conditions of happiness entitled quite simply
, in which Bhutan’s federal initiative to measure “Gross National Happiness” is a prominent aspect. These along with other resources for students and teachers are listed in the section below.
Exploring and Analyzing Sources
Students will continue to analyze apt sources including and beyond Atkinson and the Equality of Opportunity Project. They will explore online articles with close reads and responses, as well as their own thoughts, insights, views, and experiences. Some helpful resources can be found in the section below.
Timing it Right
Finally, students will need time to share information from their own life and experience. These activities will likely spark memories and experiences students wish to share, which can be sensitive. It is important to plan time in to each lesson for students to share important and perhaps very personal things about their lives that relate to the material.