Recently, I saw a few articles discussing whether individual financial skills, what’s called “financial literacy” should be taught in the public classrooms. While I thought these programs were becoming more a part of the curriculum in many public schools these days, I might have been wrong about how widespread this subject was today. Whatever level of financial preparedness is taught, let me come out wholeheartedly on the positive side of this question.
I said this when I was a young man and I’ll say it again: personal finance should be taught in grade school. No other aspect of life touches more people than income, budgeting, and debt.
Why shouldn’t these things be taught in our classes? Parents and students complain that you never use algebra outside a classroom (they’re wrong), but it’s hard to argue more people wouldn’t benefit from learning financial literacy than algebra. I suggest you teach both.
Certain subjects we consider so basic to life and good health that they must be taught, however boring the class thinks it is or however uncomfortable the subject matter is. We teach our kids reproduction and the birds-and-the-bees in health class, because we want them knowledgeable about these adult subjects when confronted with them, able to deal with them responsibly.
I’d say in the days of the Internet, our kids probably know more about those subjects than we ever did. But they’re just as ignorant about finances, credit card debt, budgeting, banking, and bankruptcy.
One reason home finance isn’t taught enough is we might not have enough qualified teachers, at least judging from the debt statistics (I’m only joking, teachers). That does bring up an interesting question: should a person who can’t handle their own household budget be instructing a class full of youths about the do’s and don’ts of personal financial responsibility. I suppose they expect people out of rehab to teach kids about staying off of drugs, so perhaps the school of hard knocks applies to economics, too.
US State Laws on Personal Finance
To get down to brass tacks, only four U.S. states require their youths to take a one-semester course about individual economics and budgeting: Utah, Tennessee, Virginia, and Missouri. Michigan allows personal finance classes to count as a math credit. Twenty other U.S. states incorporate the subject into their curriculum in other courses, such as mathematics or economics.
Jump$tart Coalition National Site
Most US states have their own Jump$tart Coalition, a national organization which tries to promote financial literacy for students. The Jumpstart Organization realizes that our current credit card insolvency epidemic and the mortgage crisis are symptoms that the last generation of two hasn’t been educated about the dangers of borrowing money well-enough for their own good.
Credit card companies could be blamed for hooking people on debt the way drug dealers hook junkies on drugs, but that doesn’t absolve the education system (parents/teachers/policy makers) of their own shortcomings. Our school system and those who try to affect what’s taught in schools have a responsibility to warn youthful people of the dangers out there (in either case). Jumpstart Org helps organize citizens to bring new laws to the books so educators have the tools they need to do their job.
Practical Money Matters
One of the best resources online for instructors to teach high school age students about finance is found on the award-winning Practical Money Skills website. The lesson plans I link to allow high school educators who teach grades 9 through 12 to download 22 different lesson plans in a single zip file. Among the other valuable lessons they can access, these free downloads teach teenagers how to set financial goals, how to protect their identity, why a person should protect his or her money from roommates, tips for doing so, a basic understanding of take home pay, why making a budget is pivotal, how to make a budget, and why credit matters.
The “Money Metropolis” CD allows you to teach financial literacy to kids ages 7 through 12 by playing a home economy-based game. Kids approaching middle school compete for jobs and learn how to save for goals. At this level, teachers are able to instruct using fun tools so their kids don’t just roll their eyes and tune out (or whatever they do in 5th grade these days).
If you want to go lower into elementary school, you can teach primary students some rudimentary economy tips with Peter Pig’s Money Counters. These lesson plans are meant for kids ages 4 through 7 by playing games which are accessed on a free CD-rom. When Practical Money says they want “Financial Literacy for Everyone“, they get the ball rolling pretty early. I applaud them.
If the games don’t do the trick for you, try out this comprehensive list of lessons plans starting from Pre-K all the way up to college age lessons. In other words, anyone of any age can learn personal finance skills by taking this battery of quizzes, personal examinations, and tests. You’ll have lecture guides and worksheets to prepare you for exams. While I suppose the age 18 and up material has a self-taught aspect to it, most of these resources are for educators. Teaching professionals and administrators with special needs students can also find material to use.
Financial Literacy Starts Early
These tools should get educators started. If you’re a teaching professional, this might bolster you curriculum in economics class, civics, social studies, or what used to be called “home ec”.
Remember, the only prerequisite for learning is the desire to learn. If you are willing to read and concentrate, listen and learn, you’ll be able to gain better economic literacy through education and training. Adults who don’t know the basics of personal finance can teach themselves how to budget properly and avoid the pitfalls of credit card, sub-prime mortgage, and predatory lending debt.We weren’t taught what we needed to know, so we’ll just have to instruct ourselves using the resources available.
As for the millennial generation, they should be learning the tricks and tips in the public schools. Of course people should learn these techniques at a young age, when memories and experiences stay with us a lifetime.