Over the years, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis has worked
hard to develop active relationships with a number of communities external
to itself. Not surprising, among these are bankers, community leaders
and journalists; all of whom we work with frequently. Relating to these
groups is something we take seriously and to which we commit considerable
time and energy. We treat it as part of our role as the country's central
Also among our valued communities is one that most would not guess.
We consider economic education tremendously important and have chosen
to support those who provide that education. In most cases, that
means high school economics teachers, but it's not limited to high
school and at times may also include higher education and more broadly
We know from surveys and from our own experiences that economic
literacy is a problem in the United States. Some have an accurate
and quite sophisticated understanding of how our economy works,
but the sad fact is that most do not; furthermore, few have a clue
about the Federal Reserve's role in monetary policy and the regulation
of banks, or of the financial services that we provide. Worse yet,
some have a quite bizarre picture of our institution that defies
any logical understanding. It's simply wrong.
We reason that helping to support economics teachers improves
economic literacy, and to that end we have embarked on a number
of economic education projects over the years. With minimal budgets,
across the country we have conducted workshops, drafted newsletters,
guest lectured, developed curricula, sponsored essay contests, hosted
meetings, constructed electronic bulletin boards, and so on. The
list is long and every entry represents a venture designed to help
the teachers, usually at their request.
Two years ago, the presidents of the 12 Reserve banks collectively
decided that we should produce a set of videos and related teaching
materials for high school economics teachers. This was part of our
ongoing concern about economic literacy, but represented a much
larger undertaking than most of our past efforts. One that the presidents
asked that I oversee.
First, we assembled a team of Federal Reserve "experts" and set
out to create four videos that teachers could use in their classrooms,
especially when they came to the textbook chapter on central banking—if
it were indeed a full chapter.
Before writing the script we talked with teachers. We asked them
for their thoughts about our ideas as they were taking shape and
we asked them generally about made-for-the-classroom videos. We
learned a great deal.
With that information we began writing the scripts, a critically
important stage of the process. Many made-for-the-classroom videos
have failed because they were dull: There is no other way to say
it. We wanted our story to be an engaging one that the students
would tune in—not out. Of course that's easier said than done,
and we were always mindful that if we went beyond the capability
of the medium, which meant loading too much information onto the
story line, then our attempt would probably also get tossed on the
great scrap heap of failed made-for-the-classroom videos. Video
has its limitation, and that was one of our important guidelines.
It can tell a wonderful story that may interest and inform a student,
but it's less likely to serve well as an encyclopedia.
Two years later, after sorting through questions of proper emphasis
and varying points of view, we finally filmed, edited and reproduced
a large quantity of what is now our most current (and we believe
significant) offering to economic educators. These now complete
videotapes represent our best effort to explain ourselves in a mainstream
way to America's students.
Frankly, we are feeling good about the videos thus far. That's
based on early reactions from screenings with teachers across the
country, but the acid test is yet to come. What will happen when
the gatekeepers (i.e. the teachers) order the new set of videos
from our warehouse in Kansas City and actually try them in the classroom?
Will the videos hold the students' attention long enough so that
they can understand a bit more about our complex economy? Perhaps
with teachers' help they may begin to grasp some of the basics of
how our banking system works, or who knows, even why the banker's
Working with groups like economic educators is something we choose
to do and is not in any way required of our institution. Like most
labors of free choice, projects like our videos take on a special
importance. We want them to work, to make a difference. We hope