By Andrew Hill, Economic Education Advisor at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia; and Adjunct Professor of Economics at Temple University.
Cocktail party conversation can often be difficult for even the most adept conversationalists among us. When meeting new people, an unavoidable topic is always what you do for a living. I was trained in graduate school to expect people to respond in unpredictable ways when I explain that I am an economist.
For most people I meet, I’m sure I’m the first economist they have ever met. For many of them, I’m sure they are largely unaware of what economists do. As one of the few economists in the United States who specialize in K-12 economic and personal financial education, I’m lucky. I get to tell people that I train teachers to teach kids about money. In nearly 11 years in the field, not once has anyone ever told me that he or she doesn’t think that personal finance should be taught to the nation’s young people. It’s quite the contrary. I often hear, “I wish I had been taught personal finance in school.” Or, “Our kids need more of that.” Or, “That’s a very important job.” So whenever I’m asked what I do for a living, I’m never an economist, but rather I’m an advocate for K-12 economic and personal financial education.
Despite the fact that these social interactions consistently provide anecdotal evidence that the general public thinks K-12 personal financial education is important and something we need more of, America’s schools are only slowly, at best, increasing the amount of personal financial education they offer to students. In my 2011 paper with my colleague Bonnie Meszaros [Associate Director of the Center for Economic Education and Entrepreneurship], Status of K-12 Personal Financial Education in the United States, we found that personal finance leaders overwhelmingly believe that parents are the most likely group to support personal financial education for their kids.
But, the question remains why parents are not more engaged in advocating for personal financial education in schools. While the popular press has recorded many instances where parents have lobbied school board members and school administrators or raised money to save sports, art, or music programs, I have never heard of parents taking the same action to ensure that their children receive personal financial education in school.
Part of this absence of parent activism around personal financial education may be that parents understand from their own school experience what art, music, and gym classes are mostly about and they don’t know much about how personal finance is taught in the K-12 classroom. But, it may also be related to the fact that parents have largely not been mobilized at the local level to work toward K-12 personal financial education. Or, perhaps the lack of local parent advocacy for personal finance is related to the fact that the benefits of learning about personal finance lie largely in the future, while the effect of student participation in art, music, and sports is readily observable now.
Parents, particularly at the local level, are a largely untapped group of potential advocates for personal financial education. Parents in towns across America can be the voices pressing schools to offer more personal financial education. I sincerely hope that as the years pass my interactions with parents and grandparents around the country will increasingly be two-way conversations in which they share vivid details about the many ways that their children and grandchildren are learning personal finance concepts in elementary, middle, and high school. But, the fulfillment of that dream lies, at least partially, in the willingness of Americans who care about our kids’ futures to get engaged at the local level in advocating for K-12 personal financial education.