Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Gabriel Reich

Second Advisor

Dr. Kurt Stemhagen


Today’s high school students will face a host of economic problems such as the demise of the social safety net, mounting college student debt, and costly health care plans, as stated in the rationale for financial literacy provided by the Council for Economic Education’s National Standards for Financial Literacy. These problems are compounded by growing income and wealth inequality and the widespread influence of neoliberal ideology. Although one of the major goals of economics education is to teach students to make reasoned economic choices in their public and private lives and provide the skills to solve personal and social economic problems, little empirical research has been conducted on how these goals are addressed. Secondary economics education research has primarily focused on measuring students’ grasp of neoclassical economics while a separate body of literature provides theoretical critiques of that approach. This study responds to the gap presented by these separate camps by capturing the economics discourse of a high school economics and personal finance course in relation to the role of economic decision-making in a democracy, and the space to hold values discussions. Using case study methodology that included analysis of student and teacher interviews, classroom observations, the standards and official curriculum, lesson plans, and student-produced documents, the study provides deep, context-dependent knowledge about how the official curriculum is manifest in the classroom.

Findings reveal that the role of economic decision-making and values discussions were given very little space. The discourse was heavily focused on the acceptance of the science and mastery of technical knowledge about personal finance for the dual purposes of preparing students to succeed on the W!SE Financial Literacy Certification Test and preparing students to navigate and succeed in a fixed economic reality firmly committed to neoclassical economics. The role of economic decision-making was diminished by the foregrounding of financial literacy over economics, which served as a mechanism of power to send the silent message that economic circumstances (such as wealth inequality) change through individual choices and that economic and social phenomena can be understood and addressed through the application of technical approaches.


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