The other day I was walking through the mall with my 17-year old daughter and we got onto the topic of speaking French. She has had two years of the foreign language in school, so naturally I figured she was about ready to move there and fit right in. Instead, I was shocked when I heard she couldn’t speak or understand much of it.
“Dad, I know I’ve had it for two years but the teacher doesn’t require us to know it … she basically does it all for us,” she said. “Plus I only took it because it’s required for graduation.”
I guess I’ve always known that high school graduation requirements are out of whack, but it never really bothered me … until now. Now I have a daughter who is a straight A student and can’t speak a language she has been studying for two years. I also realized that she barely understands personal finance. Though she has a job, a debit card, bank account and investments, she doesn’t understand any of it or why money is being withheld from her weekly paycheck from a local restaurant.
This made me wonder – why are school districts forcing kids to take classes to meet graduation requirements that are out of touch with what they really need to know once they have graduated? This isn’t an argument about foreign language courses, but rather, it’s about school districts implementing a priority on what kids should learn to advance them the most in life.
Name one thing, just one thing, that a high school student will use more after graduation than basic personal finance. Argue all you want but the answer is nothing!
So, I believe that in order to graduate from high school, you must complete one full year of personal finance. At a minimum, a teen should be exposed to how credit works, how to budget and know the basic terms of saving and investing. They should also understand income taxes, retirement accounts, credit scores and student loans.
We don’t allow teenagers to drive a car, fly a plane or operate heavy equipment without requiring sufficient education because the results could be tragic. Yet we allow our teens to enter our complex financial world with little (or no) education. There have been millions of people tragically affected by the lack of knowledge about credit card debt, student loans and bad mortgages.
From an early age, our kids are exposed to money, its buying power and the never-ending choices from having it. For some, parents are there to guide them through or just make decisions for them. However, for what I believe is a greater number, there are kids that grow up having no clue. In other words, kids driving without a license.
My ramblings are not going to change the US education system, this I know. However, there are two things for certain. First, my daughter is going to make up for lost time and learn some French. Secondly, she’ll have regular conversations with me (or someone smarter than me) about how basic finance works. If she can’t get it from school, then it’s my responsibility to make sure she learns it here.