“We shouldn’t teach kids about money”

My rebuttal: Why Ramit Sethi is wrong about financial education.

written by oz chen

get my weekly digest on psychology & money

Financial guru Ramit Sethi tweeted that he doesn’t support teaching personal finance in high school. His reasons:

1. Kids don’t care until they have $
2. Who teaches it? Why do we expect public teachers to master personal finance too?
3. Inevitably, Wells Fargo will muscle its way into classrooms. No thanks

What asinine crap is this?

Usually I love Ramit’s messages, but in this case I heartily disagree (except for the possibility of #3.)

And I’m not talking about just high school – I think we should teach kids about money as early as possible.

Claim #:1 “Kids don’t care about money until they have it”

I just spent a day teaching money concepts to third graders at a Compton elementary school via the nonprofit Junior Achievement.

This was more nerve wracking than any financial workshop I’ve taught to adults.
Would the kids be checked out, like one career day I presented at?
Is this the right level of education for elementary school kids?

Instead, I was shocked how these 8 year olds engaged with the lessons, and how much they knew about money.

  1. Kids do care about money because it’s access to things they want. (In case you’re wondering, my class was obsessed with PS5s, Slim Jim and chocolate milk.)
  2. Kids interact with money all the time, even when they’re not earning it. They get an allowance. They go to the grocery store with their parents. Their parents pay them to do certain cores. I heard this all first hand.

One thing that stuck out was the presence of modeling. Every time I asked students about earning, spending or saving, they referenced something their parents did.

How adults talk about – and handle – money around children makes a huge difference.

Which brings me to the next point…

Claim #2: “We shouldn’t expect public teachers to master personal finance too

Before the tech age, there were no computer classes. Now more than half of high schools offer computer science.
Typing and cursive used to be taught; now they’re relics along with other school subjects that have aged away.

Education should evolve, not stay static.

To say that we shouldn’t expect teachers to master personal finance is limited thinking.
Teachers get trained and hired all the time for new skills.

I think the harder issue is that we can’t agree on what to teach in personal finance, because money is so broad.

“If you can breathe out of your ass, do it.”

I once asked my high school cross country coach: “Are there any special breathing techniques?”

I’ll never forget his reply: “Son, if you can breathe out your ass, do it.”

I was butthurt (heh) about his flippant comment at the time.

As an adult, I appreciate the wisdom of that simplicity…

When starting out in any endeavor, what matters most is not some secret technique.
What matters most is that you try, and stay engaged.
To cultivate enough internal drive to just do it, whether that’s running 10 miles or setting up your finances.

In the same way, we can approaching educating kids about money:

  1. Don’t expect them to be perfect; just get them engaged.
  2. Don’t expect educators to be perfect; just start talking about money.

Kill the perfectionism.

With most Americans living paycheck to paycheck and deeply in debt, it’s at least worth trying.

I think we owe that much to the future generation.

I debated whether to talk about strategies for teaching personal finance in public school, but decided that should be for another dedicated post.

Long aside

Ramit also referenced this 2014 study that financial education does not meaningfully translate to financial behaviors. But that doesn’t reflect the core problem: financial illiteracy hurts people.

This is not a fair apples-to-apples comparison because financial education never got incorporated into Common Core curriculum. It’s unfair to “pit” personal finance against another subject on regular rotation.

The elementary school teacher (whose classroom I borrowed for the day) said that in her 18 years of teaching she never had Junior Achievement – let alone any other organization – come and talk about money.

Even just volunteering for half a school day, I saw the power of engaging students in conversation about money.

We don’t just hold 1 on biology and expect students to immediately grok evolution their first time. Continual financial education increases their surface area of knowledge until it becomes meaningful enough.

We already teach kids a ton of things in school that don’t “matter.” How many people need to learn cursive or rote historical facts about the heights of Presidents? When’s the last time you used Calculus?

It also bears citing that Ramit is married with no kids. He’s not going to have the perspective of just how incredibly sponges kids are when it comes to modeling.

Okay, I’m done now with this long aside.

liked this article? tell your mom, tell your kids


Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.