Jennifer Brandsberg-Engelmann, an international secondary school educator and curriculum developer, had long been appalled by the dismal state of economics education for young people. Students at middle and high schools learn about a "degenerative economic system," as she puts it, in which "the economy" is framed as something separate from society and nature. With little sense of contemporary realities, economics courses assume that endless economic growth is desirable and possible. It focuses on businesses and markets, ignoring the vital role that household care and the commons play.
Brandsberg-Engelmann decided to do something about these deficiencies. Inspired by Kate Raworth’s pioneering book Doughnut Economics, Brandsberg-Engelmann instigated a collaborative project to create a comprehensive Regenerative Economics syllabus. She wants young people to learn about economics as if the planet and people really mattered – and to showcase many fresh new schools of economic thought.
On my podcast Frontiers of Commoning (Episode #46), I spoke with Jennifer to learn more about this important work-in-progress.
Like Doughnut Economics, the Regenerative Economics syllabus focuses on a core framework: how to keep the economy within ecological limits while meeting minimum social needs.
This focus naturally elevates all sorts of topics that introductory economics courses marginalize or ignore: feminist critiques of care work and households; strategies for preventing the ecological "externalities" that standard economics blithely accepts; the psychic, social, and cultural ramifications of capitalist economics; and the range of alternative economic perspectives now emerging, such as degrowth, the "circular economy," "doughnut economics," commons, and related movements.
Initially, much of the Regenerative Economics curriculum was focused on UK schools, but as it has proceeded, the project has become broadly international in its ambitions. Doughnut Economics Action Lab remains a core supporter of the project.
While some national or local school systems may formally embrace the course, Brandsberg-Engelmann and her colleagues think its adoption is more likely to be incremental, irregular and bottom-up. In design sprints with teachers, she said, "We were thinking about metaphors for this curriculum, and we talked about it being a weed -- a dandelion – that's going to spring up through the cracks in the pavement."
Interest in the curriculum is strong. Scores of secondary school educators and staff from around the world have signed "An Open Letter for a Course in Regenerative Economics" released by Brandsberg-Engelmann in May 2023. The Letter proposes the creation of "a free, open-access, classroom-ready course in Regenerative Economics…to equip our students with the knowledge and skills needed to create a future of human and ecological thriving."
Brandsberg-Engelmann said: "Many, many teachers around the world are just desperate to break free of a lot of the mandated content that we know – and I'm just going to be straight here – is just wrong!" The Open Letter faults conventional economics courses for:
- framing the economy as separate from society and nature;
- assuming that endless economic growth is desirable and possible;
- ignoring the vital, regenerative role of household care and of the commons in the economy;
- using outdated models that paint humanity as essentially self-interested and competitive; and
- reducing the student’s role to being a passive recipient of narrowly-framed information about the economy, rather than supporting student agency to understand and catalyse economic transformation.
By contrast, the guiding principles of the Regenerative Economics syllabus include:
- facilitating change from the ground up;
- cultivating local awareness and action, such as place-based learning and lived experience, allowing ideas and action to emerge in local contexts;
- inspiring a hopeful, positive and playful approach to learning about and engaging with economic systems, going beyond critiques;
- nurturing interconnection and diversity with diverse educational ecosystems, including the strengthening of positive relationships between humans and the more-than-human world.
The syllabus aims to change not only what is being taught, but also how learning will occur. The idea is to move away from memorization and high-stakes exams towards flexible, meaningful learning that that draws on lived experience and local communities. It even supports students in becoming change-makers themselves! Modular units will make the curriculum more adaptable to future needs and contributions.
A draft version of the Regenerative Economics syllabus, version 2 (May 2023) can be found here. Teachers, students, or others interested in contributing to the development of the curriculum or helping to promote it, should contact Jennifer Brandsberg-Engelmann at jennifer /at/ regenerativeeconomics.earth. You can sign the Open Letter and express your support for the course at https://forms.gle/mu6NAFyQgU4SHRAq6.
You can listen to my interview with Jennifer Brandsburg-Engelmann here.