I just got an email discussing the many ways McGraw-Hill (publisher of my book, Repair Your Credit And Knock Out Your Debt) is working with and supporting the Jump$tart Coalition (a Washington-based group that advocates improving the financial literacy skills of K-through-12 students).
I've been involved in Jump$tart, and I've been published by McGraw-Hill, and I have to say I'm not sure I agree with the basic idea of this partnership.
I mentioned Jump$tart in my book; I mostly gave them a pass because they're so new (Jump$tart efforts have to be begun in each state, and many states don't have a Jump$tart Coalition group at all, while some have more well-established Jump$tart efforts.
What Jump$tart seems to be really good at is putting together surveys; every few years they survey High School students to determine their level of financial literacy. This is the survey that tells us that only 12% of H.S. seniors in California have learned about financial literacy and money management while in school. Etc. Etc. Etc.
From these surveys, which show a shocking lack of financial literacy among students, the Jump$tart Coalition, (and apparently McGraw-Hill with them) has become determined to teach money management in schools, and particular to teach it to teachers. McGraw-Hill has even helped them with their teacher-training programs. (According to this email I received, "Research in the field has shown that many teachers of financial literacy have themselves never received instruction in personal finance. Responding to this important need, increasingly, The McGraw-Hill Companies' target audience is teachers..."
I was a teacher for a while. In fact, I've taught at every grade level from Kindergarten to college Freshmen. That's why I feel qualified to say that this approach is wrong-headed.
I know everyone here means well, but to me this is another symptom of the decay of American society. It is the job of parents to teach their kids about financial literacy. Parents should help kids establish their first bank accounts, learn to pay bills, budget and understand the basics of money management. What's happening now is the wholesale abdication of parental responsibility to the schools. Schools already have to teach your kids to recycle, be tolerant of others, not to do drugs, (in some schools) practice safe sex, and the list goes on and on. Schools can barely teach reading, writing and arithmetic any more, let alone music, drama and art. And we keep piling responsibilities on them. Now we want them to teach financial literacy as well? Speaking as an educator, I say "enough!" Either they want teachers to take valuable class time they don't have to teach things the students should be learning at home, or they think by providing financial literacy training to teachers there will be some "trickle down" of knowledge to the students.
I guess that was my biggest problem with Jump$tart; every meeting I attended, I felt like the only person in the room who'd ever actually been in a classroom full of kids. Jump$tart (in my experience) was populated by very wealthy, very intelligent, nice, and well-meaning individuals (mostly executives and CPA's) who knew a lot about money but very little about education. There were a few college professor-types there, but they're a subject for another rant.
The bottom line is, I think training teachers is great. We should do it. But we shouldn't expect that to translate into increased financial literacy among our students. And I'm not sure anything we do in schools will have a lasting or profound impact on students' level of financial literacy. (Honestly, is school any match for the constant barrage of media that kids see their entire lives? And school is the worst place to try to teach money management, when every kid has to have a more expensive pair of sneakers than the kid next to them.)
Where's the right place to teach all this stuff to kids? At home. McGraw-Hill, Jump$tart, listen to me: educate the parents. Give them what they need to teach financial literacy at home, where there's no peer pressure, and you might see financial literacy scores improve. Schools can't do everything, and they shouldn't have to.
What kids need to learn is this: You are not what you own. Americans' values today are tied to materialism and wealth, and that has to change. But this is not an objective area of inquiry; this has to do with your values, beliefs, and your self-image. Are these areas you want to hand over to schools? When it comes to things like values, wouldn't you rather teach them to your child yourself?