Kiss and sell: Profs write economic 'Love Story'
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. Students in a Purdue University agricultural economics course are learning about dollars and cents in a language they understand: the language of love.
A textbook written by three Purdue professors borrows a page from dimestore romance novels to teach basic economic principles. The book, "Life, Love and Economics," follows two college graduates and the economic decisions they make as they meet, marry, take jobs and raise children.
The nearly 300-page book is being used in entry-level macroeconomics classes.
"Life, Love and Economics" was written by the late Gavin Sinclair, assistant professor, and Dee Cuttell, adjunct professor, in the Department of Organizational Leadership and Supervision; and Robert W. Taylor, professor of agricultural economics. They say they wrote the textbook to reach a generation of students turned off by traditional economics texts. "There are a lot of good economics texts. The trouble is, students don't like them," Taylor says.
End-of-course surveys bear that out. When students are asked to evaluate their macroeconomics classes, they usually give instructors high marks but assign low grades to course texts, which they consider dry and difficult to wade through, Taylor says.
"We wanted a textbook they would read," he says.
The idea for "Life, Love and Economics" took root about a year ago, when Taylor and Sinclair discussed the problem of getting students excited about economics. Sinclair suggested the pair pen a romance, weaving economic tenets into the storyline. Sinclair soon brought Cuttell, with whom he'd written another book, into the project.
Sinclair and Cuttell did most of the writing, with Taylor contributing economic material. A final draft was finished last summer, in time for Sinclair to test it out on his students this past fall.
Students this semester are using the first printed edition of "Life, Love and Economics." So far, the book is available only at campus-area bookstores.
The book tells the fictional story of Jason Cooley and Samantha Fletcher. Cooley, a graduate of "Bloomington University," meets Fletcher, an alumna of "West Lafayette University," while the two are in line at a frozen custard stand. They discover they've accepted positions at the same computer company, and their relationship blossoms from there.
Each chapter covers a different economic topic. In "The First Date: The Paycheck and Financial Planning Chapter," Jason learns about federal and state withholding taxes, Social Security and 401(k) plans. Chapter 9 "Samantha Buys a House: The Real Estate Chapter" takes the female lead through the rigors of realizing the American Dream. Other chapters deal with subjects such as financial planning, conservative vs. liberal economic philosophies, entrepreneurship, and welfare.
"We thought with a fictional setting the students could better relate to and see how the application of economic principles affects everyday life," Sinclair says. "We asked ourselves, 'What are all the economic questions a person will face in life?' and we went about writing a chapter about each."
Sinclair says that while the economic lessons in the book are serious, the story is not. He says he and his co-writers "tried to outdo each other with corniness."
One such scene has Jason and Samantha on a dinner date whispering sweet nothings ... about savings plans. Jason thinks to himself, "I know I should be bored, but Samantha sure is cute when she talks economics." Later in the book, Jason explains the investment value of the engagement ring he's about to give Samantha.
There are no steamy interludes. The closest the book comes to a love scene is in Chapter 13, when Samantha leads Jason upstairs. "Apparently things were successful, because nine months later, Jason and Samantha's first child was born, Jason Junior," the next sentence reads.
Cuttell says the book is meant only as a supplement to traditional classroom lectures. He says some educators might frown on the treatment economics is given in the book, but he, Sinclair and Taylor are more concerned about connecting with students.
"We broke with tradition and produced a work that we believe students will read. And when students read, learning is likely to take place," Cuttell says.
So far, students are devouring every paragraph of "Life, Love and Economics."
Taylor says one student came to class upset after reading the chapter where Jason's wise Uncle Mitchell dies a chapter on estate planning. "He'd been reading ahead," Taylor says.
Even Purdue staff have found the book hard to put down. Sinclair says a staff member in the Department of Agricultural Economics was asked by her boss why she hadn't placed the new text in a faculty display case.
"She said, 'I haven't finished reading it yet,'" Sinclair says.
"Life, Love and Economics" is published by Pearson Custom Publishing of Boston. The book wholesales for $42.50.
Sources: Robert W. Taylor, (765) 494-4211; firstname.lastname@example.org
Gavin Sinclair, (765) 494-5611; email@example.com
Dee Cuttell, (765) 496-3385; Decuttell@aol.com
Writer: Steve Leer, (765) 494-8415; firstname.lastname@example.org
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; email@example.com
NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: Review copies of "Life, Love and Economics" are available from Steve Leer at Purdue Agricultural Communication Service, (765) 494-8415, firstname.lastname@example.org. The ISBN number is 0536603383.