By Brian Page
“All the perplexities, confusion and distress in America arise not from defects in their Constitution or Confederation, nor from want of honor or virtue, so much as downright ignorance of the nature of coin, credit, and circulation.” – John Adams
On the first day of Personal Finance class, I explain to the students that the course is designed to empower them with the financial tools they need to manage their money consistent with what they value. The students are challenged to have a vision of how they want to live their lives, establish goals that will put them on a path to get there, and provide them with the money management tools they need to reach their goals. The curriculum and assessments are rigorous enough to assess how well they can apply what they have learned in future challenges with real money at stake, and the environment is engaging and innovative enough to draw interest in the material from everyone in the class so they can rise up to meet high expectations.
If this sounds like an appealing course for your child, you are not alone. In a recent Visa Inc. survey, 85% of parents said they want a course in personal finance to be a high school graduation requirement. However, only four states have that requirement in place. Although most states require financial literacy be woven into existing curriculum, it is being taught by some teachers who have no educational background in personal finance.
I find it baffling that our legislators have not invested in financial education for future generations, while at the same time they are visibly clashing on how to manage the wreckage of what is left over from a generation of Americans who lack one. The mantra of sacrifice is clear, and sacrifice should not be limited to spending cuts.
Sacrifice can also come in the form of revenues being raised to fund programs necessary to keep our mainly free market economy–free. Sure, there are committees, reports, speeches, and talking points addressing the issue, but the funding is not there.
There seems to be a growing public sentiment that is divisive, that pits the ‘have’s against the ‘have-nots’, a position that is being accelerated by the current political climate. Concurrently, there is an emphasis on the need for education reform, with little to no mention of financial education reform. Not enough educators are being trained to teach a course that provides the foundation for the financial well-being of future Americans, which could explain why, broadly speaking, students who have taken a personal finance course do not test any better than students who have not.
Now is the time to step back, consider the bigger picture, and recognize that if we want our economy to remain mainly free, we need to teach future generations how to spend responsibly within one. This will come at a cost, although I can assure you that the cost of instituting and delivering a quality financial education across the country is a lot less expensive than the consequences of a country full of consumers without one.
Brian Page is Ohio’s lone recipient of the 2011 Milken National Educator Award. He co-created the EIFLE Award-Winning financial education game ‘Awesome Island Game’. He currently teaches Personal Finance with Reading Community City Schools. You can follow him on Twitter @Awesome_Island or follow his class @TeenDollars.