Econ 101

 

In the list of the few teachers I didn’t get along with, there has been one name that has come back to my mind in recent months. He was loud, obnoxious, and arrogant, always interrupting students the second we got off course. He used to strut, yes strut, in front of a classroom full of seventeen year-olds, waiting to write the next discussion point on the board. Looking back, he was the only teacher I remember from high school who dared to grade papers in red pen. I’m sure I had more teachers like him, but this Economics teacher was fiercely Capitalist, supremely self-righteous, and made Ayn Rand look like a soccer mom.

These days, I wish he taught kindergarten.

Why do we insist on not teaching our children the basics of Economics? In between the Maths, Sciences, and Phonics, all the building blocks which are supposed lead to a full functioning member of society, there is no time to learn about the basic bedrock of what holds society together: money. The word problems in arithmetic class aren’t enough. “Sally sells seashells at seventy cents” only serves to teach young people the value of numbers, not the value of money. We give them no concept about how taxes work or how money stabilizes a society until they a practically full fledged members themselves, and even then the value of money is rarely discussed. In the affluent public schools we teach that charity is done by giving money away, not by acting on the problem. We teach to give to the poor without question, rather than teaching that even alms can be an investment. And in doing all this we teach that the best way to solve a problem is by throwing more money at it, rather than seeing where the money is already going.

This form of financial education only serves to create a bigger schism between classes. We divide the world into haves and have not’s, keeping the latter dependent on the former. Resentment naturally becomes a two way street.

There is a common thought, I suppose, that often leads young people astray in the first place: “Let kids be kids,” we say, rightfully protecting the innocence of youth.  But there comes a point where a chick has to battle with his own strength against the reality of the shell protecting him. If you break the egg for him, the chick never develops his own strength and dies in a relatively short  time. To intentionally keep a child ignorant about the basics of life represents a grave failure as a parent.

If you think I’m overreacting, I’ll make it concrete. I recently spoke with a young woman who is currently getting her masters. She graduated from one of the top liberal arts colleges a few years ago at the top of her class. And she was horrified to learn that when she makes a deposit in the bank, the actual cash doesn’t just sit there until she is ready to take it out. She didn’t understand what it meant to be FDIC insured and had never heard of some stocks going up in a recession.

How is it this student went to some of the best schools in the world and managed to miss this information not only in Economics class but also in History, Math, Government, Art History…

We should be teaching the basic principals of saving, credit, and interest from the day children are able to understand that money exists. We should be teaching teenagers how to follow investments in a mock stock exchange competition. And nobody should be allowed to graduate high school without knowing how to do taxes, set up a long term savings account, and handle APR. Failure to do so creates a system that combines two of the most crippling elements in the world: fear and guilt. Fear, from not knowing how to handle money, and guilt from having it in the first place.

My teacher was a man who, sadly, didn’t have many of the qualities a good teacher has. I’m sure he drove the school administration nuts. (More power to him for that!) But he understood the fact that if people didn’t appreciate and even respect the value of money from a young age, economic chaos was certain.

As I remember this teacher’s behavior whenever a student finally conceded that he was right, I hope we don’t give him a chance to strut during this modern economic period.

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