I have been tweeting out some of my thoughts about the Great Depression as that will be our next project. I think it is a very interesting and important time period to analyze. The causes, attempted “fixes”, and how it ended are debated among historians and economists. The viewpoints usually reflect the political bias of the historian/economist of conservative, liberal, or libertarian. The other fact that has increased its importance was the bursting of the stock market from the internet bubble and housing bubble in recent years. How to keep the economy running and the role of government in both the economy and regulation of business are very current topics that the Great Depression should shed light on.
The controversial nature of these topics make them perfect for PBL. I imagine essential questions such as:
- What was the primary cause of the Great Depression? Defend it against other other lesser causes.
- Why was the Great Depression global?
- Were Hoover’s or Roosevelt’s policies effective? Did their policies shorten or extend the length of the Great Depression? Defend with specific examples and compare and contrast the presidents.
- Was Hoover really laissez faire?
- Is deficit government spending an effective policy during depressions and recessions?
- How should we define Depression vs. Recession? How should we define when GD ended? by GNP? unemployment rates? financial levels of families? income gaps and disparities?
- Is war “good” for an economy?
- When did the Great Depression end and why? New Deal vs. start of WWII vs. end of WWII vs. other?
But now let me share my struggles. First of all in order to give fair answers to most of these questions or even consider them one needs a background in economics. My students have not taken that class yet making many of these concepts very challenging for most of them. Also due to the challenge of the economics, many students also find them boring. On a personal note, although I have a solid math background and understand basic economics, I think I need a much deeper level of economics to give these topics justice. I mean these topics are so debated by experts that I feel it is difficult to answer these questions for myself.
That leads to my biggest problem with this topic. I am not afraid to teach or admit to students that I do not have it all figured out yet, but what I really need are high school level resources from the various viewpoints. A mixture of primary and secondary sources that explain the major economic theories, their biases, strengths, and weaknesses would be great. Of course textbooks (which we don’t have anyway) are not much help in this. I envision comparison charts that summarize the major viewpoints along with primary sources including data, political cartoons, quotes, etc. Then I could give the essential questions and resources to students and turn them loose to come up with their own opinions.
So anyone have suggestions on student friendly resources particularly defining the major economic views?