The three things every school must teach our kids

48 thoughts on “The three things every school must teach our kids”

  1. I’ve been working with our local school board and superintendent as a committee member for the last two years to try and bring about change. My goal is to bring personal finance into our district. We took a survey of past graduates and found many said the school under prepared them in areas of personal finance, critical thinking, and leadership. You are right now with these points, but a single school system let along all system are a big ball of red tape and change takes a long and slow time to happen. In my two years we have talked much and accomplished little. I will continue to push, but it may take a bigger act to accomplish this goal.

    1. Thanks Brian. Yup, the bureaucracy is nearly impossible to navigate at virtually all levels of government, and schools are certainly no exception, unfortunately. I’m afraid that we’re just going to keep doing what we’ve always done, and as a result, we’ll keep getting what we’ve always gotten.

    2. There are companies that sell teaching software to schools. A company my wife works for does this. They take “sponsorships” from corporations to put these in schools. For example, here in Iowa, a financial institution has bought the program for all schools. It is then up to the teachers to figure out if they want to use it.

      I graduated with only the ability to write a check and balance a checkbook. Everything else I had to learn on my own.

  2. I don’t necessarily disagree with your logic. I’ve never really dug into the test scores before to understand what the data says and doesn’t say. But I’d be curious what the countries ahead of us are doing? Has their education system evolved and surpassed ours and are there strategies we should be adapting to in order to keep up?

    1. It might be a combination of what they ARE doing, as well as what we AREN’T doing. There is so much ingrained in this topic, from society in general, to poverty, to corruption, to…

      Thanks for reading!

  3. Agree with all three points. One other point, and this goes to both school and parents, is to teach our kids the incredible value of unstructured time.

    As a kid who was brought up in a different country and culture, I never had the structure of summer camp. Summer allowed me opportunity to explore endless days of bike rides in the Scottish countryside with my buddies. Exploring the surrounding hills, making a fort in the woods from what we could find. Yes, one or two times getting lost but always finding a way home. I think this laid the foundation for many things we are doing today, Our own kids love to get into the mountains, woods and explore. If you don’t explore, you don’t find new things, right? A bit like the careers in scientific research of Mr and Mrs PIE.

    We want to give our kids as much unstructured time as possible. And even more when we are in FIRE and they will still be 7-9 years before college. If college is what they want to do.

    1. Agreed, Mr. PIE, and excellent point. Unstructured time is important. It teaches kids to become more self-sufficient and figure things out on their own. I had quite a bit of unstructured time too, but only during the summer when school was out. During school, everything was incredibly rigid, leaving almost no room to think for yourself outside of the confines of the lesson.

  4. As a former teacher, I couldn’t agree more. #2 is super important. I really tried to emphasize critical thinking and reasoning as a teacher, even though it was scarcely part of the curriculum. It’s alarming how kids enter college (and probably leave college) with very little logic training.

    My high school did require a personal finance course, and although it didn’t challenge some of the cultural BS about finances, it did teach the basic skills you mentioned and covered topics like mortgages, investing, insurance, and wills. I didn’t absorb it all at the time, but there were a few things that stuck with me. It was definitely a leg up compared to some of my college roommates who were continually bouncing checks.

    1. It’s awesome that your high school required a personal finance course – I had never seen one growing up, but I suppose even a rudimentary class is much better than nothing at all. I’m heartened to know that there is at least SOME of this material floating around at the high school level! 🙂

  5. I never understood having to memorize facts – I haven’t memorized a list of any sort since college – the closest I have come is preparing for a presentation.

    I took a ‘personal finance” course in high school, it was basically “how to balance a check book” which I have never done – big swing and a miss.

    It is comical how little people understand about money – but if you ask anyone, they want more of it

    1. Thanks Apathy. Yup, regardless of how much people know about money and their own financial situation, one thing is always clear – more, more more. And that goes for stuff, too. Always, more. Because that’s the American Dream. More.

  6. My son just finished high school, and I don’t think that he ever had any coursework that would help him make financial decisions in his life. As a Boy Scout, he earned a personal management merit badge which focused on the basics of money. I was a counselor for this merit badge, and spent a lot of time with Scouts explaining debt, compound interest, and the importance of saving. I was always surprised at how little the scouts knew about money when they did the merit badge. Many of the other adult scout leaders also struggled with some of the concepts. I’ve always appreciated how Dave Ramsey does a good job explaining money topics simply on his radio show.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, MrFireStation. Your son’s experience certainly doesn’t surprise me. I learned about finances at home. Nothing – and I do mean ZERO – emphasis on that most basic life skill was present in all of my schooling at ANY level.

  7. Those are some great points, and I agree with Mr. PIE on the importance of unstructured time. I recently read an article about someone watching Goonies with their kid and 30 minutes into it, his kid asked, “Where are their parents?” 🙂

    I remember having lots of free time, just biking down country roads all over our county, and I even ended up in TN once. Whoops. It was great for building confidence, spatial reasoning (this was before gps so if I got lost, I had to figure out how to get back home), and all kinds of other skills I am probably not even aware of.

    Our home ec class in high school actually did teach us some economics. 🙂 Basic stuff but I remember it was pretty freeing to realize that I could file my own taxes. Odd I know, but it was that first bit of financial empowerment I guess in realizing that it’s not all voodoo to be afraid of.

    1. Thanks Mr. SSC. I did take an accounting class, but that was much too focused for most of us to really apply that to our lives. Never took a Home Ec class.

  8. I was always told that they teach you to think (or learn how to learn) in college. I am not sure why they would put it off until then. Honestly, I was going through the motions in college too. Although I took one personal finance class in college none of it stuck. Without having money at the time, I had nothing to apply it to. It was all just some hazy future that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. In addition to teaching personal finance to kids, we also need to find a way to engage them in money management, in other words to have some skin in the game.

    1. I think another important element in this equation is finding the right way to teach our kids. Naturally, this is a very difficult element in education because most of our school districts simply don’t have the resources necessary for more individualized education. You basically got a classroom full of kids. Give them as much information as possible in the shortest amount of time, and whatever sinks in, sinks in. Ugh. 🙂

  9. Wow, you’re take on public education is very divergent from my own experience with it in the 1980’s and 1990’s! And very different from what we’re seeing with our own kids in the 2010’s (K-5 so far).

    I took a consumer math / finance elective in middle school where we did budgets, balanced a checkbook and learned about credit and debit cards, interest, etc in the context of the math behind all of that. In looking at my daughter’s middle school elective offerings, they still have similar classes. In elementary school, both my children and I had the Junior Achievement folks come into our classrooms and present on finance/money topics and entrepreneurship.

    Then in high school, all students in NC are required (and were required dating back to the 1990’s at least) to take economics, legal, and political systems (also called “Civics”), a year long course that covers the basics of being a functional member of our society. Half the course was economics, with the classic supply and demand micro/macro econ. They also covered budgeting, credit/debit cards, how bank accounts work, taxes (I still remember filling out the long hand 1040 forms with pencil!), the stock market, interest, CDs, bonds, etc.

    This is in Wake County, a large fairly decent school district, and at what were above average schools I would say (HS was top 50 in the country at one point).

    Logic, analysis, and critical reasoning were and are taught in our schools today. Inference, deduction, causation/cause and effect, correlation, etc. It starts in elementary in science, math, social studies, and language arts classes and continues throughout the academic career. For those that do well in math, culminates in AP Statistics (a junior level class in college, but taught to mostly 11-12 graders in our high school).

    For students that apply themselves, basic K-12 education can be a very transformative experience. Even though my wife and I have advanced degrees, I’m not sure I could replicate the K-12 experience as well as our awesome public school system does it. Too many subject matter experts in too many fields PLUS they have pedagogical training that helps them teach the concepts.

    It’s too bad many kids simply don’t take advantage of the opportunities offered to everyone. Those that do tend to be very “lucky” later in life. 🙂

    1. This is AWESOME to hear, Justin – I just wish more of our school districts would take a similar track. If schools in NC have found a way to avoid the one-size-fits-all track for education, and teaches the skills necessary to keep our youngsters out of future debt, I’d say the rest of the country definitely has something to learn from your state. I went to school in northern Virginia – Fairfax County, and that was supposed to be one of the better school districts in the entire country.

      Weird. 🙂

      1. YMMV I guess. NC overall has some of the worst teacher pay in the nation ($35k starting salaries I think), and has no particular advantage as a state (and in fact I swear our elected officials are opposed to generating smart critical thinkers). I guess we’re lucky to be in a relatively affluent county (probably equivalent to the NoVa counties in Virginia) where there are standards and expectations, and parents raise a stink when there are problems.

        1. Yup, definitely a case of YMMV. There will be areas of the country that tackle this issue more successfully than others. And you’re right, being in a more affluent area probably does impact that success rate tremendously! 🙂

  10. Preach, Steve! As a current school administrator and spouse of an educator, this is my reality. And I’ll be honest: I am getting out because I am frustrated with being charged to defend and implement a broken system.

    In some ways, the shift toward teaching problem solving skills and emphasizing technology use should help the US catch up to the rest of the world. But in my opinion, the biggest problem is lack of proper parenting. Parents, on average, do less and less for the kids and spend rapidly decreasing amounts of time with their children. Parents are more interested in being friends with their kids than providing structure and discipline. Until that changes, I will remain concerned about the state of education in the US.

    1. Thanks for your comment, FinanceSuperhero. I’m sure that as a school administrator, you’ve seen it all and experience it on a daily basis and can attest to some of the frustrations that the system faces. Talk about a thankless job, I bet.

      1. It truly is, Steve. I chose this career path because I wanted to be able to support teachers and ensure meaningful learning for students. Unfortunately, red tape and a culture of testing have made my goals almost unattainable.

  11. Yes, I definitely agree – When it comes to personal finance, the education system does a poor job.

    I’ve always looked at the education system this way:
    The public education system won’t teach you how to get rich.

    The government will provide a basic education for children that suits their purposes. That education will cover only what the government needs — good tax paying drones that can read, write, vote, earn a basic salary, and handle some math.

    For everything else, you’re on your own!

    I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just saying “that’s how it is”.

    1. What a spot-on comment, at least from my experience within the educational system as well. Some school systems are better than others, but on the whole, there are some serious gaps – gaps in BASIC knowledge – that need to be shored up!

  12. I would love to believe that it’s possible to change the education system in America. However, as you point out, the government is not interested in cultivating rebels. It’s up to parents to supplement their children’s education. We cannot just assume that whatever is taught in the four-walled classroom is sufficient. We need to be engaged and find out what they are learning, so we can teach them everything else that they need to know.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Harmony. You said it best, “We need to be engaged and find out what they are learning, so we can teach them everything else that they need to know.”. 🙂

  13. I do remember learning in middle school how to balance a checkbook and then in high school I vaguely recall having a project understanding bills, income, even analyzing our parents utility bills. I think we all had different professions and then had to pick different houses and make choices based on our given income. Of course – that was in a private school, so likely not something in a standard curriculum.

    1. Interesting! That’s definitely better than nothing, certainly introducing kids to how money and finances combine. Nearly 100% of my personal finance background was learned at home.

  14. Excellent things all! I really think all students should be taught a second language starting in elementary school (to better cement it in our brains while our neuropathways are still fluid). It’s good for the brain and also makes us less arrogant, expecting everyone to speak our language.

    I wasn’t taught personal finance, but economics did briefly cover the stock market. But really just enough to scare the bejeezus out of me. Well, that and the U.S. history section covering the Great Depression.

    1. Good point on the second language – I held off on a second language as long as I could, but my school district did require at least 2 or 3 years of a second language. Again, one of those *better than nothing* scenarios. 🙂

  15. Growing up with two parents as teachers I can tell you that success is largely based on what happens at home and not at school. Schools should just be an enforcement of what already happens and is taught at home not the other way around. I remember learning about check books, credit cards and money in elementary. We played games where we had money for a month and had opportunities to earn more or buy candy and lose it all. I had an investing class in high school and lost all my pretend money, but the best life lessons on money came from my parents who didn’t just teach me, but showed me how to save, pay things off, value time and experience over things. You can be as book smart as you want but unless you have real life application you often don’t see or feel the impact.

    1. Parental influence cannot be overstated in its importance, no doubt about that. I agree, personal finance *SHOULD* be taught at home by parents who actually know a little something about the subject. Unfortunately, this isn’t all that possible in many cases.

  16. “The sad reality is that it’s not in the best interest of our nation (read: government) to teach our kids to question.”

    My cultural anthropology degree compels me to add to this! While the government has its agendas in school (growing patriotic citizens who believe in the spread of democracy, for one), there are other layers to consider. We can talk about religious attempts to be involved in public education (influencing sex ed, fighting to edit science textbooks). Or the more subtle influence of the majority group in simply writing the textbooks and leaving out important contributions by other groups (like Comanches’ effects on the Mexican American war, etc etc). In the past, women and minorities were more obviously excluded from “learning to question” by schools, because that would disrupt the status quo in a big way. I’m sure you can think of others you’ve encountered. There may be nothing so controversial in a diverse society as how to teach our children.

    Thanks for blogging!

    1. This is absolutely, positively spot on: “There may be nothing so controversial in a diverse society as how to teach our children.” We will all have an opinion on what we should be teaching our children. In my view, let’s leave the advanced math for college and instead focus on mastering the basics, to include personal finance and balancing a budget sheet.

  17. Nice post, agree completely. With one exception: I actually enjoyed advanced math. It teaches you logic and should help with item 2 above. If you are able to prove a mathematical theorem it does sharpen your mind. Part of the problem of deteriorating education quality is that we got rid of the hard material and replaced with the touchy-freely, repetitive worksheet crunching, standardized testing, etc.

    From my personal experience teaching personal finance to middle school kids I always found kids to be very responsive to this topic and eager to learn. But I have very low hopes that any of this will stick when parents set bad examples. Personal finance is something that has to be taught by both parents and schools. Parents can’t just drop off their kids at age six and pick them up again as fully functioning, financially responsible adults 12 years later.

    1. Thanks for your comment, and I do very much agree with you that math teaches logic and reasoning. Those who are naturally good at math are some of the smartest people that I know – but that doesn’t necessarily mean they know how to stay out of debt. 😉

  18. Lots of really good points. I definitely agree that schools need to be teaching personal finance. The jump from high school to college was huge, and then the jump from college to the “real world” was even more drastic. I learned a lot in school, but like you said, the essential “life skills” I essentially had to figure out on my own. Basics such as personal finance, filing taxes, what jobs are really like, etc. Thankfully I have amazing parents that helped me learn along the way, but many people aren’t so fortunate.

    “Memorizing a bunch of facts does not equip us to excel in this world.”

    This is spot on. I vividly remember cramming for tests and trying to remember as much as possible, “mind dumping” it all on paper, and then walking out of the room forgetting everything. This taught me how to get A’s on tests, but it didn’t help me actually RETAIN anything important. Thinking creatively outside the box was never really encouraged, and we learned everything from books instead of truly experiencing it. Something definitely has to change.

    1. “I vividly remember cramming for tests and trying to remember as much as possible, “mind dumping” it all on paper, and then walking out of the room forgetting everything.”

      Ha! Yup, that was pretty much my entire high school and collegiate “career”. I definitely retained some of the information that I was forced to memorize, but I continue to wonder if I’m really using any of that knowledge or experience. Learning how to learn is one thing. But avoiding basic subjects like personal finance to free up room for more advanced topics? Doesn’t seem to be working out too well.

  19. Agreed with you. Teaching these 3 items to kids will make them grow up as responsible adults that make their own opinion.

    In my opinion, the current system – in Belgium – is too much focused on reproducing.

    At school, none taught me about budgeting or a investing. There was this one extra curricular activity where you could do a mini startup thing.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Amber. Out of curiosity, though, what do you mean by the Belgium schools are too focused on “reproducing”?

  20. As a society, we have a long way to go as it is unacceptable that our nation’s schools perform so poorly relative to other countries. But I do think some schools are doing a better job than others at preparing young people for the future.

    We send our kids to a private school that has really focused on bringing together a racially and socio-economically diversified student body. They teach students to be analytical and critical in their thinking. And they support challenging conventional wisdom.

    But it’s a smaller school and not subject to the same bureaucracy as public school systems. And even as good as the school is at preparing students, there are still gaps. Personal finance education is certainly one of those gaps. And that’s where parents need to step in. Because personal finance isn’t really taught in school, we teach it at home.

  21. Good article. Touches on a very serious epidemic in our country; the general population is mostly financially illiterate and uneducated. I find it fascinating that our educational system mandates courses in fine arts and second languages yet does not feel personal finance belongs in the curriculum.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Frugal Familia. I’m right there with you on this one. Perhaps if more of our youngsters understood personal finance and debt, maybe more of them would stay out of it! Maybe…

    1. Thanks Pamela! I honestly don’t believe it’s in a government’s best interest to have a well-educated population. Education is too much of a threat to their control over the people. It’s sad.

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