Elective financial literacy courses are popping up more and more in schools across the country and rightly so. Even better, many students are choosing to take these classes voluntarily. In our age of debt, mortgages, credit cards, foreclosures, and financial uncertainty, we truly cannot begin teaching financial literacy early enough.
Teaching Financial Literacy in Elementary School:
At Walter Bracken elementary school in Las Vegas, students are taught through real-life applications how to save, invest, and manage their money. The school has incorporated a “piggy bank Friday” and has even set up a small “bank” in a janitor’s closet where students can make deposits and track their savings in their “bankbooks.” The school does not allow the students to withdrawal money from their accounts until they graduate. This is a truly creative and effective way to educate young people about how to be solvent financially, how to avoid debt, and how to achieve long-term financial goals. Elementary schools across the nation can follow Walter Bracken’s example. There is a great video summary of the school’s program here:
Teaching Financial Literacy in High School:
At the higher grade levels, education regarding money is even more urgent. At Cleveland Central Catholic High School, for instance, Personal Finance is an elective that hordes of students chose to take their senior year. Some of the course’s appeal stems from the fact that Cleveland was hit particularly hard by the recession of 2008, and many students experienced their families having to foreclose on their homes or struggle with crippling debt. Teacher Carol Troxell says that many students take the course because they want to “break the cycle” that they saw their parents go through. Troxell has been teaching the course for over a decade, and she has seen more and more students express a desire to learn about finances. She shares some great tips on how to execute a financial literacy course here:
Unfortunately, while the two examples above show how effective financial literacy courses can be, the total number of states that require these types of courses has actually dropped since 2014. Currently, only 20 states make financial literacy a requirement in public school curricula. On the upside, all 50 states require economics to be taught, but the question is how applicable is that to students’ future life situations? The Council for Economic Education reports that schools are failing students when it comes to teaching about personal finance. Nan Morrison, the president and CEO of the council says: “To be successful, most kids don’t need to learn about collateralized debt instruments, but they do need to know how to open a bank account, how much they need to save each month to reach their goals and, if they borrow this amount of money, how much money they will need to earn to pay it back.”* The importance of these basics should not be underestimated.
Many of us have been through the painful experience of having to learn on the fly (and perhaps too late) how to save, apply for loans, buy houses and cars, pay for emergencies, and manage money. Financial literacy is a vital skill that can undoubtedly be taught beginning at a young age and throughout school. As Ms. Troxell says, the idea is to build a “financially-educated society,” and that will have value (not just monetarily) beyond measure.
Here are some further resources for teaching financial literacy:
Written by Phil Lane
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