At What Age Should Schools Teach Financial Literacy?

COMMENTARY | Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently expressed his belief that financial literacy should be integrated into the curriculum of American schools starting even as early as kindergarten. It is thought that too many Americans do not have adequate financial planning skills needed to handle and manage money wisely. Duncan believes the teaching of these lessons should begin early in school. I happen to have my own theories on the matter.

Having two college, two high school, and an elementary school-aged child, I am familiar with the core curricula being taught. Second-graders deal with much more complicated and challenging math curriculum than I had in elementary school. Not only are young kids now learning the basics such as reading, writing, spelling and arithmetic, they are also learning an overall more complex curriculum than in the days of their parents’ elementary education. I feel these kids have a full academic plate as it is and need to focus on learning and understanding numbers and mastering basic mathematical concepts such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. They need to learn and incorporate this information in their daily life, before they can begin to think about becoming “financially literate” as elementary school students.

However,I do feel there is some room for financial education at elementary levels, such as the concepts taught in the classic “Schoolhouse Rock” DVDs. “Schoolhouse Rock” featured five-minute educational, animated segments aired during Saturday morning cartoons mainly in the 1970s. They were revived in the early 1990s, with the addition of the “Money Rocks” segments. These are fabulous learning tools for young children and teach simple concepts of learning and understanding money and its use with catchy little songs that kids will listen to and learn from. For example, the short entitled “$7.50 Once A Week” is about a little boy who gets that much allowance and has to learn to manage his money to be able to save for the things he wants to buy. “Where The Money Goes” is a father explaining to his young son where all of his hard-earned money goes. These are great ways to introduce money management concepts without being too overwhelming.

Beginning with high school levels, I do feel it is important to introduce some education about money matters to students. I feel senior year is the perfect time for this..Many students will be embarking on college careers the following year or taking a job, with some living away from home for the first time. I graduated in 1986, and my school’s graduation standards required all seniors to take a class called Consumer Business. We learned all about checking and savings accounts,money management, budgeting, etc. It was a great help after graduation when I began working. In fact, I learned how to write a check for the first time in Consumer Business classes.

These types of classes work well with this age range, are important and should be included as part of every high school’s curriculum. For the younger set, I feel they need to concentrate on the basic math concepts before learning financial literacy. Sometimes I feel that today’s children are made to grow up too soon and things are pushed upon them too young. Let them be kids for a while. They have plenty of time to worry about being financially responsible later in life. Adulthood and the responsibilites that go with it come way too soon!

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