Teaching personal finance

Public school teachers and administrators sometimes grow frustrated at demands politicians put on them. No wonder. Curriculum demands vary regularly, depending on what seems to concern the public most at a given time.

But some failings in the priorities we set for schools seem obvious. One is “financial literacy.” In essence, that means teaching students how to handle personal finances and basics on the economy as a whole.

An international assessment of financial literacy among students has been completed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. It included nearly 28,000 15-year-olds in 18 countries and economic regions.

Though American students did not turn in embarrassing scores, they certainly did not shine. Their financial literacy was ranked ninth among the 18 groups.

Too many U.S. high school graduates do not recognize the importance of balancing a checkbook, not to mention how to do it. They do not understand that when the Treasury Department prints more money, it is not creating new wealth. They do not realize that someone has to pay for every “free” offer, whether by government or business. They do not make connections between government policy and their cost of living. Interest on loans is a mystery to them.

In short, they lack basic knowledge needed to safeguard their own interests. That may well be the most important priority U.S. educators should address in any school reform campaigns.


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