I realized something: It should be a part of every school’s curriculum.
Last year my husband and I were diligently searching for a school to send our daughter to. Although she was only in preschool, it seemed like a big decision, and I spent a lot of time asking various educators about class sizes, unstructured time, and emergency procedures.
One thing I didn’t think to ask about was the schools’ approaches to teaching kids about money. It was something that I didn’t know I wanted a school to do, until the school that we settled on highlighted their financial education program, which includes having eighth graders handle the business of running hot lunch (proceeds to benefit field trips, obviously).
When I heard that each classroom at the school operates some type of business, I was thrilled. I immediately felt a sense of relief that was wholly unexpected. As a child who grew up poor, I didn’t receive any financial education until the second semester of my senior year of high school when I opted out of traditional math class and into “senior seminar,” which included a section on finances and investing. Even now, as I transition onto more stable financial footing, I’m learning as I go.
My experience isn’t unusual. According to a 2015 report from Champlain College’s Center for Financial Literacy, only five states (Alabama, Missouri, Tennessee, Virginia, and Utah) require that high school students take a semester-long class on personal finance. The same report gives 26 states grades of C, D, or F when it comes to high school students’ financial education.
This lack of education is unfair, especially to our nation’s most vulnerable students. When I was growing up poor, my parents didn’t teach me valuable financial lessons because they had never learned them, either. With little financial education in school, I was left to learn from mine and my parents’ financial mistakes, which didn’t exactly set me up for financial security as a young adult.
Last year the National Financial Capability Study surveyed more than 27,000 American adults and found that only 37 percent could correctly answer four out of five questions on a test about basic financial concepts like compound interest and inflation. (You can take the test yourself here). That was down from 42 percent before the great recession, according to Fortune. With nearly two-thirds of Americans unable to understand even basic financial concepts, we can’t assume that students are receiving quality financial education at home.
“When you look at the adult behavior, you can’t help but wonder whether or not these adults are doing a good job teaching their children,” John Pelletier, director of the Center for Financial Literacy at Champlain College, tells Market Watch.
In addition, a good portion of American parents aren’t talking to their kids about finances at all. A study by investment company T. Rowe Price found that 72 percent of parents plan to talk finances with their kids. This is roughly the same number that plan to talk to their kids about sex, but fewer than those who plan to discuss drugs and alcohol. Plus, this online survey was administered by an investment company, so it likely does not represent a wide swath of parents in various financial situations.
Generational poverty — when two or more generations of a family are born into poverty — is a very complicated issue that touches on institutional and social shortcomings. Yet, providing education about personal finances in schools would help empower all students to make more informed decisions and set them up for financial stability rather than continuing a cycle of financial distress.