Principles of Economics x 2
One view of economics is that it is the study of the economy. That suggests that if you are going to take one basic course, it should tell you things about the economy--how big it is, how it is measured, what "inflation rate" and "unemployment rate" and GNP and NNP and such mean. My impression is that most principles texts and courses are designed to do that.
The other view—the one I favor—is that economics is an approach to understanding behavior. It can be used to understand inflation and unemployment but also to understand marriage and divorce, the arguments for strict liability vs negligence, interactions between parents and children or between teachers and students, why tariffs are passed and why armies run away. The applications to the economy have been worked out in somewhat more detail than most of the others, but they are not necessarily the most interesting or useful. Most students will at some point enter the long term contract called "marriage," so a way of understanding the world that helps them to understand marriage is useful. Most of them will never have to make any decision that depends on understanding how GNP is defined.
There are two arguments for designing a principles class around my view of economics. One is that it's more fun, more interesting, then learning lots of facts. The other is that it teaches you more useful things.
There are two arguments for the other approach. One is that it is what most students expect to learn in such a course, because most of them, like most other people, think of economics as the study of the economy. The other is that learning facts and definitions, while it may take just as much time and effort as learning ideas, requires less involvement and less intellectual ability. Hence such a course may be more accessible to a large number of students, most of whom are taking it not because they have any serious interest in economics but either to satisfy a distribution requirement or because they think that in their later careers, whether as executives or reformers, they will have to know the basic facts about the economy.
At one of the colleges we visited, I asked someone in the economics department about relative numbers of econ majors and students taking principles. The answer was that the latter was more than ten times the former. That fact helps make sense of why principles is likely to be taught, even by professors for whom economics is interesting, in a way that isn't.
This suggests a real conflict between the two approaches, from the standpoint of the department. An economics course taught as I would want will, I think, attract more majors to the department, since it shows economics as an interesting, flexible, useful set of ideas. But it may also result in lots of students who are not interested in being majors feeling cheated, feeling that instead of teaching them what they want to know the professor has been teaching them what he wants to teach.
The resources that a college or university provides to an academic department typically depend, at least in part, on how many students take their courses. Teaching Principles the way I want it teach may increase the number of majors, which brings in resources—money and faculty slots. It may decrease the number of non-majors taking the course, which costs the department resources.