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The Distressed Economy For Teachers Grade 5 Through Middle School Years

Scholastic News talks to psychologist and author Adele M. Brodkin

By Adele M. Brodkin | October 17 , 2008

Scholastic News: Is it a good idea to bring up the topic of the shaky economy for class discussion?

Adele Brodkin: If the topic arises during current events discussions, by all means respond to children's questions and correct any misinformation they may have. Keep in mind that there is a great range of possible reasons children could be interested (or not interested) in this topic.  If the economy has taken its toll on a family who has had to give up their home and/or a family in which one or both parents have been laid off of a job, it may be a vital subject. Children in those instances may have caught the contagious worry of their parents. They may not really understand, but sense that something bad is threatening their family. In the simplest terms possible, explain what is happening. If you sense alarm in one or more of your students, have a low key private chat with him or her, listen and be reassuring. You might even, in some cases, feel you have a responsibility to alert a parent to a child's alarm.

Unless there is a curriculum based reason for pursuing it, then, it is probably best to simply respond to any questions or misunderstandings expressed by any child.

SN: How might the topic fit in with curriculum?

AB: I can envision drawing on contemporary economic issues to illustrate certain math principles. Then too, economic issues are quite relevant to the study of history as well as contemporary cultural situations. And incidentally, here's an opportunity to point out that this current crisis or some version of it has been experienced before by Americans and their friends overseas. There were lessons learned in those earlier experiences, lessons in coping and fixing the problems. Pointing those out can be reassuring, especially if you note that the economy has cycled between good times, bad times, boom times and hard times. And each new down time provides a learning experience, though, admittedly, not a pleasant one.

Speaking of history, not only do many young people  find it difficult to believe that their grandparents had no TV, no cell phones, computers or computer games, they might be amazed to learn that when their grandparents were young, there were no credit cards.  There were some lay away plans, but most people did not accept being in debt as a way of life. There is some talk about the possibility that living with debt on the part of families, businesses (including banks)  and corporations may have gone too far.

SN: Should the age of the students affect the way teachers address the topic?

AB: Yes. The younger the children, the simpler and more concrete teachers' lessons about the economy should be.

There is another important factor: teachers will very likely be aware of community wide troubles such as plant closing, layoffs in a particular industry, a rash of foreclosures. They are advised to be sensitive to those local concerns, pointing out that almost everyone is affected, but, as history illustrates, things will get better in time. What is more, both state and national governments are working hard to find solutions; and there are many agencies ready to help in individual cases.

If large numbers of families in the community are affected, the administration of the school might even want to sponsor a parent event with invited speakers from some of those helping agencies along with counselors addressing the question of how to keep the kids calm.

About the Author

Adele M. Brodkin, Ph.D., is a psychologist, consultant, and author of many books, including Fresh Approaches to Working With Problematic Behavior and Raising Happy and Successful Kids: A Guide for Parents. In addition, she has written and produced award-winning educational videos.

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