"Americans in Debt" course highlights the prevalence of an unfortunate aspect of American culture

photo of Carolyn HardinEach spring, AMS 205 - Introduction to American Cultures is offered as one of the required core courses for American studies majors at Miami. This year, assistant professor Carolyn Hardin offered her students a twist: they would examine how debt, in the form of credit cards, payday loans, mortgages, and student loans, became prevalent in American culture.

Renaming her section of the course "Americans in Debt," Hardin explained that she had her students learn "the unique interdisciplinary approach of American studies by synthesizing multiple sources into a compelling narrative about debt in US culture."

"My students critique the role of debt in the cultural debates about business, personal responsibility, consumption, and the economy, identifying the limits of many solutions offered to various debt crises and applying their own personal experiences to offer new insights to old debates," she added.

One of the students' most eye-opening experiences in Hardin's course was researching various credit cards and computing the differences between paying the monthly minimum payment and paying the bill in full.

"This activity elucidated old and new regulatory battles over financial disclosure and literacy and exposed the shocking cost of the debt carried by 'average' Americans," Hardin said.

AMS 205 students had positive reflections on the course exercises.

"These applications have taught us how to avoid high-interest loans and hidden fees, giving us a better understanding of the dangers of credit," said one American studies major.

Said another, "Not only have I learned how to handle personal finances, but by approaching debt from multiple perspectives including race, class, and age, I better understand the burden debt causes many Americans."