It is common in Economics to have introductory courses based on one-sided ideological textbooks (e.g. the most famous being this one, ToC here). The problem of course is not the particular ideological orientation they have, but that most of these textbooks explicitly omit alternative ideological readings or understandings of the science. For example, the aforementioned book covers mainly neoclassical economics, and a bit of Keynesianism, amid a wide range of alternative schools of thought. The lack of acknowledgement of this wider picture nudge students to think that the science itself is defined on what the textbook presents. "This is Economics and nothing else".

Naturally, that is a deeply misleading view of a very diverse field, and particularly damaging (in my view) for those just starting to learn the subject.

Given this context, which are the best methods to foster pluralism in teaching, particularly introductory courses?

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    That is a very interesting question. I am sure there has to be a lot of experience on this in the philosophy departments out there.
    – xLeitix
    Aug 11, 2017 at 8:22
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    @xLeitix Thanks. Regarding your last point, don't you think it provides some context upon which the question is relevant? In a sense, less effort is put on teaching because faculty is less interested, meaning the strategy required to foster pluralism might face extra complications than in a department which is primarily teaching-centered.
    – luchonacho
    Aug 11, 2017 at 8:30
  • You appear to have very black and white views of your field, and of those in the field. That is your opinion, which is fine. But, you are projecting a great deal on others, so answering this question is ultimately very opinion-based.
    – Jon Custer
    Aug 11, 2017 at 20:22
  • Regarding your last point, don't you think it provides some context upon which the question is relevant? — Not without some evidence that disliking teaching is correlated with disliking pluralism. Those dislikes look orthogonal to me.
    – JeffE
    Aug 15, 2017 at 1:53
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    You need a Economics Science Educator Stack Exchange :-). Cf. cseducators.stackexchange.com and matheducators.stackexchange.com
    – Clément
    Nov 15, 2017 at 18:52

3 Answers 3


How refreshing to see someone who recognizes a spectrum of ideas and wants to teach it!

Science in general and economics in particular could be said to revolve around observation of phenomena, theorizing about causes, and research to verify or falsify the theory.

Try addressing topics in this framework: Here's the phenomenon, here are some of the theories to explain it, and here is some research on it which supports / refutes particular theories. This will provide a model for your students to learn the subject without descending into rote recitation of the professor's favorite dogma.


University Bayreuth offers a Bachelor-Master program in Philosophy & Economics. Their approach to economics is plural by choice. I haven't found any teaching material on their website, but most professors will be glad to share their experience when asked by a colleague. A list of staff can be found here: http://www.pe.uni-bayreuth.de/de/pe_team/index.html .


Ok, took a look at the preview. The key problem is, of course, that you cannot teach everything in one semester. The book starts in an absolutely correct way stating clearly what assumptions they make and what viewpoint they will explore in some reasonable depth. It is inevitable for any one-semester presentation even in such "uncontroversial" subjects as mathematics to be lopsided: you decide what highest points you want to achieve and essentially just combine the shortest routes to there allowing yourself some leeway for improvising occasional funny deviations when you feel like it. It is just the words "This is what the economics is about" instead of "this is the point of view that we will accept throughout this course to keep the exposition uniform and the conclusions consistent" that irritate one (especially if repeated more than once).

So, what I would suggest is to start with finding the depth-width compromise you want to make, to select sufficiently many points of views that you can explore in sufficient depth. Then, once you figured that out, choose the topics you want to present from these points of views and run some comparisons. That is a huge headache if you want to do it right and the goal is to give a clear picture of several approaches and their comparisons and interplay instead of just totally confusing the students so that the only thing they have in their head in the end is "everything is relative and you can come to any conclusion from any assumptions if you accept a convenient point of view" (I cannot really create such mess in mathematics, but I can easily make it if I ever give lectures on problem solving techniques, so I suspect your case is somewhere in between).

From what you said, it also looks like there will not be any single textbook you'll be able to use, so my advice would be just to lay all books aside and to plan the whole course without consulting any (I occasionally do it for graduate courses and for terminal undergraduate courses like "history of math" where I'm not bound by some particular curriculum requirements). Then you have two options.

The first one is just to declare a "no textbook course". The students usually squeak rather loudly when you do it (in the USA, at least; in Europe it is a more widespread practice) but if you have tenure, it shouldn't bother you too much. If you do it and you really care, you'll have to make at least some handouts emphasizing the main points, keep longer office hours, etc. I've done it several times with undergrads (I'm teaching math) and it worked more often than not, but it is again a headache.

The second one is to search for 2/3 textbooks and to assign all of them clearly stating in the syllabus what will be covered in each one and in what order. I have never done it (I hate to force the students to pay 3 times the usual price and I cannot legally just tell them to download everything from you-know-where) but it is still an option.

In any case, the point is that fostering pluralism in one course by one person comes at an enormous cost. If you are willing to pay it, by all means go ahead, but remember that the more traditional way of fostering it by spreading various points of view over different courses taught by different people works not too bad either ;-)

  • Excellent answer. I believe the "depth-width compromise" is the key here, and you treat it really clearly.
    – Clément
    Nov 16, 2017 at 21:38
  • Thanks. You seems to focus specially on the issue of textbook (perhaps because I give that example). Are there other good ways to foster pluralism in a course? For example, debating?
    – luchonacho
    Nov 17, 2017 at 12:49
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    @luchonacho Debating requires that the participants have some clear alternative points of view elaborated to a certain extent. If I tell you that the Earth is flat and rests on three elephants, you would know how to debate with me, but if I tell you that the the only way to get the $L^2$ boundedness of the Hilbert transform is by complex analysis techniques, I doubt you can debate this in a meaningful way (though, perhaps, I underestimate you :-)). Debating something without clear alternatives in mind is called "non-constructive criticism" and it is counterproductive more often than not, IMHO
    – fedja
    Nov 17, 2017 at 13:35
  • @fedja yes, you are right, I don't understand why OP disregard science and already well established techniques in pedagogy
    – SSimon
    Nov 19, 2017 at 11:28

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