University of Southern California

A Literate Solution to Economic Meltdowns?
A Q&A with Marshall Professor Judith Blumenthal
July 16, 2012 • by News at Marshall

What could have prevented the 2007 economic crisis? According to Judith Blumenthal, professor of clinical management and organization at USC Marshall, the depth of the crisis might have been far less severe if more people had been better equipped to make informed financial decisions based on sound economic reasoning. Greater economic literacy, she argues, could have made a world of difference. For the past three years, Blumenthal has served on the board of directors of the California Council on Economic Education (CCEE), a statewide organization dedicated to providing economic and financial education to the state’s elementary and high school teachers and students. The CCEE has embarked on an ambitious goal to bring economic reasoning and financial literacy to California’s 350,000 teachers and 6.3 million students.

Why did you become interested in this group?
I believe in the mission of the organization. Through improving economic literacy in our population, we can have an impact on several critical outcomes, including reducing the school dropout rate, decreasing bankruptcy and foreclosures and breaking the cycle of poverty for disadvantaged students. CCEE is doing important work that addresses a whole range of issues that California faces. I think we can avoid having financial meltdowns like the one we experienced in 2007 by having a population that’s more financially literate.

Where does this literacy start?
It’s possible to teach very young children fundamental economic reasoning by introducing the concept of choice. The CCEE curriculum starts with choices that youngsters understand; “You can buy this, but then you can’t afford that.” Providing this education in increasingly advanced forms every year is the way to help kids grow up to become more informed citizens and decision-makers.

Has this helped your work at USC?
Yes, on a number of levels. I believe that we in the academy have an opportunity and an obligation to help solve the larger problems of society—and that belief supports the school’s strategic plan. My teaching has been helped too. I meet a lot of business leaders, educators and community leaders through my work with CCEE. Thanks to this network, I can bring examples from a broad range of experiences to my courses.

What advice did you give to CCEE?
I joined CCEE at an ideal moment. The organization was about to embark on a strategic planning process, and I was fortunate enough to play an active role. Working with committed business and community leaders, I was able to bring an educator’s perspective. Together, we tackled the challenge of making our programs “scalable,” in order to increase the number of teachers and students we would be able to reach. Historically, we have been limited by the number of people we could reach face to face. Now, as a result of the strategic plan, we’re developing online programs that allow us to reach a larger group of people.

How steep is our “economic literacy challenge?
Very steep! Economics is viewed as the “dismal science,” a subject that, frankly, a lot of teachers don’t have experience and comfort with. But once we get teachers to our programs, they get enthusiastic about the topic and confident about their ability to teach it to their students. I learned many years ago that you can teach any subject to anybody of any age, if you present it in the right way. So, it’s not supply/demand curves in the third grade. It’s presenting economic reasoning and financial literacy in ways that resonate with children throughout their education.

What’s the future look like for CCEE?
In the past, we’ve had terrific “live programs.” A small group of teachers would get excited about our programs and take the learning back to their kids. Some kids became quite sophisticated and impressive. But we’ve been limited by the number of people we can reach.

In the future, we will be converting much of what we do to high-quality online programs. Teachers are still in the driver’s seat, but technology allows us to reach much larger numbers of kids than we ever have. Much of what you see on our Web site today didn’t exist a year ago.

About the USC Marshall School of Business
Consistently ranked among the nation's premier schools, USC Marshall is internationally recognized for its emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, social responsibility and path-breaking research. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, one of the world's leading business centers and the U.S. gateway to the Pacific Rim, Marshall offers its 5,700-plus undergraduate and graduate students a unique world view and impressive global experiential opportunities. With an alumni community spanning 123 countries, USC Marshall students join a worldwide community of thought leaders who are redefining the way business works.