'Matter of Laugh or Death,' a humor column
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
(appearing each week in the Republican-American newspaper, Waterbury, CT)
TEACHING FINANCIAL LITERACY IN HIGH SCHOOLS
I heard a fascinating discussion on the radio a few weeks ago. The talk show host and his guest were debating the merits of a national effort to teach financial literacy in public high schools. The reason behind this effort is simple: the average American teenager in the 21st century understands finances about as well as the average American teenager in the 18th century understood video games. (Oops, that’s an ineffective analogy on my part, since the average American teenager in the 21st century has the same level of knowledge regarding history as he does finances, so he probably thinks a young George Washington kicked butt playing “Grand Theft Oxcart.”)
It’s safe to say the average American teenager has little comprehension of money and wise money management. For example, the average teen understands a credit card to be a slice of a remarkable substance: magic plastic. When one finds him or herself coveting something, all that’s needed is a swipe of the magic card, and then one is free to go and live happily ever after—at least until the next bout of avarice an hour later. The concept of actually paying the credit card bill at the end of the month with real money is nowhere on the teen’s radar screen. Of course, it’s understandable why a teenager might think this way, since the teen’s parents—average American adults—have the EXACT same thoughts regarding credit cards. As they say, the apple doesn’t fall far from the debt-laden tree.
An organization called “Jump$tart” is dedicated to providing educational materials to high schools. Most of the materials are related to personal finances, but presumably some of the learning tools teach the important concept of creating an ultra-clever organizational name using symbols as well as letters.
Teaching financial literacy in public high schools seems like a good idea. But there could be some drawbacks. For starters, the address of the Jump$tart organization is 18th Street, N.W., Washington, DC. Uh oh, that’s a red flag right there. I’d be much more comfortable if they were located in someplace like Dubuque or Amarillo. If their headquarters are in DC, that means they think they must be close to politicians and policy-makers. Which means, as inevitably as the sun always rises in the east, they will be lobbying for a chunk of other people’s money.
If I’m not mistaken, to have sound personal finances (not to mention a sound personal soul), demanding that you deserve a chunk of other people’s money is the most important thing NOT to do.
Also, anything presented in a high school classroom will have to be approved first by the educational bureaucracies at the federal, state, and local levels. By the time this effort gets filtered thru all the red tape, the teenagers who are supposed to be taught financial literacy will be complaining that Medicare isn’t covering treatment for their enlarged prostates.
Don’t forget, the public school systems are government-run operations. Given how well governments at all levels have been managing their finances in recent years, maybe the teens should learn about money from more efficient and reputable people in the economy, such as drug dealers, wrestling promoters, and the BP oil company.
So maybe the best financial advice we can give teenagers is the same advice George Washington’s dad offered him as the young future president was sprawled across the couch and playing “Super Mario Brethren.” Papa Washington shouted in exasperation, “You slacker! You better marry somebody rich.” And later on, when George ran into Martha Custis at the local Starbucks, that’s exactly what he did.
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