Amy Cramer

Amy Cramer, an economics instructor at Pima Community College, has developed an educational curriculum focused on an unbiased and complete picture of economic issues facing the world today. Voices on the Economy is taught by Cramer to students and teachers at PCC. It covers basic economic principles and surveys conservative, liberal, and radical views on everything from product safety to income distribution and unemployment. Cramer has been teaching alternative economic perspectives since 1985. For more information, visit voicesontheeconomy.com.

What is the Voices on the Economy program?

Most economics is taught from one perspective and I, several years ago, determined that our nation would be much better off if people were taught, in a respectful way, the different perspectives on economic issues. So I developed this program that I call Voices on the Economy, or VOTE. I developed it to basically teach different perspectives on economic issues so people can become more politically savvy and more educated in their voting and so we can raise the dialogue in our nation.

There is so much polarization and vitriolic debate going on now politically that I think that this sort of commitment to economics education would move us along in finding ways to compromise and if nothing else, being able to have dialogue. That’s my goal. That’s what I am committed to.

Both Pima Community College and the Thomas R. Brown Foundations co-sponsor the VOTE program. They are really committed to bringing this to both the high school and the college communities as well as the larger Tucson community. I’m hoping, not only to continue the teacher series where I teach middle and high school teachers to bring this into their classrooms, but I’m also starting a course that’s just dedicated to this understanding. We are just starting it this summer and we’re hoping to bring in members of the community so senior citizens and high school students and people from all walks of life to basically try on different perspectives and really engage and learn those 12 economic issues that we cover.

What is the advantage to gathering all of these people from different walks of life?

In a diversity of people, you’re going to get a diversity of thought. I will be having people come in who are already committed to Bernie Sanders and people already committed to Ted Cruz or Hillary Clinton and if you look at the competing views on capitalism, you can see, in our current political world, the different positions: that very strong defense of capitalism that we might call the republican position or the idea of managing or reigning in capitalism or what we might call the democratic idea and now with this new voice of Bernie Sanders and the socialist idea, we now have this notion of rejecting capitalism and the idea that there should be private ownership of land, labor and capital. Even when there are instructors who give the conservative and liberal perspectives in an unbiased way, it is usually the case that they are missing this third very important piece from the global perspective. I’ve been teaching these three perspectives for years … but now with Occupy Wall Street and Bernie Sanders, this third perspective is really on the U.S. radar screen.

Tell me more about how you address these very different viewpoints.

As far as I know, there’s nobody else in the country who is, in an unbiased way, saying there are these different perspectives on the things that we mostly debate about, such as wages, the environment, housing, health care, retirement security. There are different perspectives on all of these issues and lets have our education endeavor be committed to the different perspectives, have the instructor be completely unbiased and have people find their own voices.

There are great economic thinkers from our past. There is Adam Smith giving us the conservative perspective and John Maynard Keynes is the liberal perspective and Karl Marx, the radical perspective. With these different economic thinkers we can trace through how they originally thought about issues and then find our own voices informed by their great work. That’s what it means. It’s basically helping people define their voices by respecting and honoring the voices from our past.

I call it being inoculated against sound bites. If you just give one perspective, then what you are doing is you’re not really arming the student with what they need to oppose perspectives that they don’t agree with. So they hear a sound bite from an opposition leader and they say “I don’t know how to respond.” What we do is we teach teachers to teach students how to respond by actually taking the roles of all the perspectives. So I will say to you, for environment you are going to be radical but for healthcare you are going to be conservative and for deficits and debt you are going to be liberal. And then I ask you to participate in doing posters and doing skits and doing debates and other activities where you take a different perspective and you have to really understand it. It’s not for the purpose of becoming a relativist. I want the students to get stronger in what they think. When the teachers go into the classroom, I want them to understand the different perspectives enough that they can give them to a student in an unbiased way and never show their own hand or their own personal opinion.

I would venture to say that everybody has the same goals. We all want a clean environment. We all want decent healthcare. We all want safe housing. We all want the same things, it’s just that we have wildly different ways of thinking of how to get there.