28 May 2013

Looking Forward to the Next Eight Weeks: Teaching "Intro to the Economics of Crime and Social Problems" (again)

I am pleased to be wearing my adjunct professor hat again this summer for John Jay College of Criminal Justice (part of  CUNY... the City University of New York system).  I am teaching a course that existed in the John Jay economics department before I started teaching there as an online adjunct (almost 3 years ago now), but I have made it my own.

The course is Economics 170 "Introduction to the Economics of Crime and Social Problems" (online).  I started out teaching this course as a hybrid between the syllabi of the chair of the economics department at John Jay who used mainstream methods with a liberal twist, and a John Jay professor who is a recent UMass PhD and radical economist.

Although still containing elements of both of these professor's syllabi, over the past three years the course has morphed into something uniquely my own.   I record video lectures in my home office and blend these with a non-mainstream into economics text (Understanding Capitalism) , and a large amount of discussion responses and supplementary readings throughout the semester.  For those interested, you can get a better feel for the course in my introductory video for this summer's students. (This will be the only material for the course that I will link to directly from my blog, as I don't want to get into intellectual property issues with John Jay).

I realize that this post is self serving as most of my readers will never take an economics course at John Jay (if you are interested in signing up I have three or four spots left this summer, but the course starts today...so get on it asap!). That said, I think it is important to share what I am trying to do, in this world dominated by neoclassical economic thought and teaching.  My goal when teaching Intro to the... this summer is to have the students study the interaction of economic, political, cultural (and criminal) processes not as something given, requiring the memorization of tools to analyze, but as a collection of fluid and changing ideas.

The question "what is a crime?" is in a state of rapid change in our society as we re-make and re-define while we re-build American capitalism after this most recent systemic crisis (recession).  The growing inequality in the United States in both wealth and opportunity for material advancement is going to require people to rethink many aspects of our criminal justice system.   The US criminal justice system has been, and remains, notoriously biased against certain classes of people, but as a larger and larger portion of the country becomes "working poor", how the definitions and ideas of what is criminal change will have vast impacts.  Will we allow the criminal justice system to continue as it has been operating, allowing affluence to buy justice when fewer and fewer people will be able to afford it?  Possibly growing economic inequality might finally force society to address issues of inequality in justice that should have been resolved decades ago during the civil rights movement?

 I am incredibly excited about the opportunity to draw a paycheck (albeit a relatively small one) while engaging with this type of question again this summer (especially considering the positive experiences I have had teaching the students of John Jay College in the past)