“The case for economic literacy is obvious. High school graduates will be making economic choices all their lives, as breadwinners and consumers, and as citizens and voters. A wide range of people will be bombarded with economic information and misinformation for their entire lives. They will need some capacity for critical judgment. They will need it whether or not they go to college.”

-James Tobin, Nobel laureate and Yale economist

In Oakland, home of the Black Panthers and the ‘90s Black Gay Movement, our African American communities need a new movement—one for economic literacy.

Economic literacy is an investment. Since money speaks louder than words, economic literacy will lead to more civic involvement and more social activism. Community members will have better informed discussions and debates about the economic issues impacting their lives. Knowing that economically literate voters are watching them, city officials will make more sensibly fiscal decisions. Individuals will be better prepared to capitalize and create economic opportunities. Economic literacy can be used to re-evaluate past fiscal mismanagement.

Yet Oakland has invested more in gentrification and its image than in economic literacy. Many were misinformed that Oakland’s gentrification would economically benefit the African American communities. However, most new businesses seemed to cater to privileged hipsters—marginalizing African Americans. Realtors erase African Americans from their neighborhoods and “rebrand” the neighborhoods to attract hipsters (they argue that African Americans did nothing with their homes but lived in them). Several hipsters argued that their dogs were entitled to a City-built “doggy play park” in the middle of the city. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate of African American youth remained unacceptably high. Oakland now has a volatile mix of hipsters and disenfranchised youth. In this uneasy state of Haves v. Have Nots, simplistic clichés like “celebrate our diversity” ring hollow. Does this explain how the city ranked as “America’s Most Exciting City” for hipsters could also have the highest robbery rate in the country?

Thus, requiring economic education in high school and community college could be the best investment for Oakland. Economic literacy, not more police or tougher gun laws, could empower “disenfranchised” youth. Knowledge is power. Money runs the world. Knowledge of money, or economic literacy would be the power to bridge the racial wealth gap highlighted by the “New Oakland.” Many youth have to learn the rules of the “money game,” if they want to play to win.

Since many cities across the country are going through gentrification, Oakland could become a model for economics education in African American neighborhoods. Economic literacy is practical and relevant. Oakland students should be required to study economics in school.  Economics is used in our everyday lives. Economic literacy can help prepare our students compete for their places in the “New Oakland.” We can use it to manage the resources we have as well as our future. Economics is not just some abstract theory for wealthy old white men.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. See our guidelines.

4 Responses

  1. R2D2II

    Before kids can become “economically literate” they need to be able to read and write and they need to be able to add, subtract, multiply, divide and take square roots.

    Kids traumatized by violence and family dysfunction have a great deal of trouble focusing their attention and learning the basic language and numbers skills.

    So the first thing is that the violence in Oakland which traumatizes youngsters needs to be brought way way down from its current level.

    Once Oakland’s streets are reasonably peaceful, then African American and Latino kids will have a chance in school.

    And there’s a fundamental problem with the idea that “money makes the world go around.” Our society has become money-obsessed to the point where other, more important, aspects of life are too much diminished. Things like compassion, social responsibility, giving to your community and respecting nature.

  2. Kheven LaGrone

    I am a product of those schools, I have many friends who are products of those schools and I have tutored in those schools.

    Most of the students have dreams. However, they/we are well aware of attitudes like yours. Sadly, they are not all equipped to move beyond them. For example, they may not have college educated family members to show them how to dismiss such attitudes.

    As your comment shows, more attention is given to the problem kids. The good kids are overlooked.

    Some of those kids would benefit from economic education.

    And while you may not like the statement that “money runs the world,” it is reality. Those kids would benefit from reality, not your ideals.

  3. R2D2II

    I am wondering what you think “my attitude” is?

    Is an opinion different from yours not simply a difference but an “attitude?”

    There are lots of people who are exceedingly intelligent, competent and successful who are not “college educated.”

    “Money rules the world” is a belief system. I think of it as a religion, the chief religion of the U.S.A. Sure money is as real as any other god. I just don’t think it’s the only god.

  4. Sean

    R2D2 made some pretty salient points. What exactly did he say that offended you so much to elicit such a defensive response?

    Now, I’m not going to say that mandatory econ classes is a bad idea necessarily. But perhaps we should focus on getting kids in school and staying in school in the first place, and then worry about their specific coursework.

    “Economic literacy, not more police or tougher gun laws, could empower ‘disenfranchised’ youth.”

    Why is this either/or? I’d like to see more police, smarter gun laws, AND more literate, empowered youth.


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