Written by: Matthew Gherman 11/12th Grade Teacher of AP Economics, American History, ELL Global History at Edward R. Murrow High School, Brooklyn, NY. Matthew received the 2015 Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Teaching Champion Award.
Personal finance is a lot like relationships. They’re both taboo subjects in which everyone professes their advice and expertise, but in reality each is a very imprecise science. For high school students, these two topics are numbers one and two in terms of their curiosity (personal finance is probably a distant, but strong, second place). The curiosity and eagerness that surround this topic are what makes it fun to teach. Students are familiar with many of the terms: interest rates, stocks, bonds, checking account, credit cards, credit score; yet there is so much room for exploration and enlightenment. For both finance and relationships there is wisdom that would be helpful to know at the age of 18, but is only earned from life experience. Therefore, the best approach to teaching the subject incorporates knowledge learned by trial and error, paving the road for the next generation.
Also at the age of 18, these are topics that might seem far away, but really they are much closer and include situations that students need to be ready for. Students need to understand that their credit score is their life GPA, and they need to start building it now and learning how to build it now. At 18, they can open up an investment account and learn how to begin to grow their money at a rate faster than a savings account. They need to begin building that big savings for important purchases that will all possibly come within a decade: college, car, apartment, engagement ring, marriage, home and children. Many of these are concepts that they probably shrug at as “not my problem now,” but that decade goes by fast, and with it a lot of missed opportunity to improve their futures. The savings and investing which will make each stage of their lives easier starts at 18 (or even earlier) and the teacher is the provider of all of this information. The questions and enthusiasm that they bring to class enhance the teaching experience exponentially.
The ease with which these topics can be differentiated is also a great selling point for teaching it. Depending on student strengths, your lessons can range from just reviewing the basics to dissecting and debating scholarly articles and evaluating political implications. There is also opportunity for independent research, web-quests and presentation projects which add a different flavor to the class. Additionally, teachers aren’t limited by being shackled to a state test at the end of the year. This subject allows creativity for both teachers and students.
Personal finance is strongly connected to the civic responsibility of voting. So many times politics is reduced to sound bites, preying on an uneducated class of voters. There are many social political issues that are shades of gray and fun to debate, but ultimately, the questions all students should have on their minds are what does the government do with our money and what are the implications of government actions on our wages, healthcare, investments, mortgages, and income taxes. Teaching personal finance creates a better informed and responsible citizenry.
The most important aspect of teaching personal finance is that these are life skills. This is the most useful course that students will take in high school because it will help them to be college ready, career ready, and life ready.