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Public K-12 schools should teach financial literacy as part of the core curriculum

Updated: Jun 12

Feb 27, 2022

girl holding money

In high school, everyone thought that I had a perfect life. I was an honors student, a blond cheerleader, and the ASB Vice President. I was popular because I was nice to everyone - out of a desperate need for social support. What no one knew was that I was dealing with a mother with borderline personality disorder and an abusive stepfather. When I was 17, my mother disappeared from my life. I was left on my own and struggling severely. I moved out with no job and no money. I had no skills so I got a job waitressing, and was barely able to make ends meet. I went through several evictions and times when I would only eat once a day. I developed an addiction to cope with my childhood trauma and from having no solid way to support myself.

Now, at 36 I am on my way to finally living my dream life. I am stable, healthy, and financially stable. In between those years, it took me until age 35 to finally learn critical life skills such as how credit works, how to start a stable career path, how to interview for a job, how to build business credit, how and why to save money, how investment vehicles work, and so on. In those intervening years, I was homeless on several occasions.

Looking back now, I had a full 12 years of education (and graduated with a 3.6)- but not even one class on “how to life”. I was in the top 2% of my graduating class, yet I had no skills which could have helped me out of poverty. What were all those years spent doing? When have I ever used the quadratic equation in real life? Why was my time wasted by the US government so blatantly and flippantly? I am appalled, disgusted, and irate that the government is doing this to all of us. Every American deserves better, and it’s time to pull the curtain back and get real about what’s really going on. The American public school system needs to be thrown away and overhauled with the goal to make sure that every student graduates with a technical skill and the basic knowledge of how to be a financially competent adult. Anything less is treason.

Financial illiteracy is a serious problem for Americans of all ages, and the problem is only getting worse. In a 2017 study by JP Morgan Chase, three in four American families lack an emergency fund (JP Morgan Chase, 2017). That means most families are one unexpected expense away from financial ruin. In a 2017 study by Harris Poll for, 78% of adults live paycheck to paycheck and one in four do not save any money at all from each payday (Careerbuilder, 2017). Four in five youths failed a financial literacy quiz according to FINRA Investor Education Foundation (FINRA 2019), and a national report card provided by Champlain College in 2017 showed that only five states received an “A” on the question of whether their public schools bring about financially literate high school graduates (Champlain College, 2017). Sadly, four in five adults feel they have financial barriers to owning a home (National Foundation for Credit Counseling, 2019). So the question is, if this is such a glaring national crisis, why are we not changing it?

So far, there has been a somewhat growing national conversation surrounding this topic, but it is not enough. According to Council for Economic Education, 21 states are now requiring a financial literacy class to be taught in public high schools. The increased focus towards promoting financial education in K-12 schools started with the last economic meltdown in 2010. Another flurry of discussions are taking place now because of the pandemic. With so many families living without an emergency savings plan, the impact of financial illiteracy is now finally hitting home for millions. But the problem will not be solved until 100% of schools are required to help kids be financially literate.

So what is financial literacy exactly? The basics of financial literacy include: learning why emergency savings are important and how much you should have set aside, learning how to create a budget, track spending, pay off debt, and plan for retirement. Other important topics include how to go to college for half the national average price, why you should not buy a new car, risk management, and how to avoid financial pitfalls such as payday loans.

What are the effects of being financially literate? One of the biggest findings is that financially literate adults are less likely to get into debt that that cannot pay for (Guiso, L., & Viviano, E., 2015). Financially literate adults are also more likely to be able to retire on time. One of the saddest things about America is that millions of senior citizens live in poverty or have to go back to work long after their bodies cannot handle the strain. Many do not have enough money to pay for a nutritious monthly grocery supply or adequate healthcare.

The domino effect of a nation stressed by financial debt is also having a nation full of sick people. It has been well documented that the stress of not having enough money causes deadly health events such as strokes and heart attacks. It also causes overeating and eating bad food. America is at the top of the list of the most unhealthy developed countries. One graph shows that the US barely missed the top ten most obese nations in the world by only two slots. The US did not make the top 20 or even 30 healthiest nations in the world. And our healthcare system is feeling the effects of that. 66% of Americans are on prescription meds (Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, 2022).

The American public school system needs to be completely destroyed and rebuilt from the ground up. The premise of American schools should be to create a well-rounded, happy individual who is competent at basic life, financial, and wellness skills. Focusing on hammering in useless skills like how to solve the quadratic equation has no place in modern times unless that person has plans to go into engineering. Outside of avid young engineers, we are doing these kids a huge disservice is so many ways. Extensive research shows that the traditional classroom and curriculum is not the most beneficial setup there is. Recent research has shown that there are many other alternatives to traditional didactics that are magnitudes more effective, such as the Montessori style classroom (Dereli İman, E., Danişman, Ş., Akin Demircan, Z., & Yaya, D., 2019). Another way kids can be taught to be financially literate is by implementing games based on the topic and keeping those games going through the entire school experience.

The impact of financial literacy lasts a lifetime and can help someone lead a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life. But we are raising a generation of people who do not have basic knowledge of adult life, and no transferrable skills through our outdated educational system. Raising Americans to be in poverty helps no one. In conclusion, financial literacy can be taught and it can have lasting impacts not only for the individual but for an entire country. You can help end the insanity by writing to your local school district and your local congressperson about the urgency of this issue.


Careerbuilder. (2017, Aug 24). Living Paycheck to Paycheck is a Way of Life for Majority of U.S. Workers. survey

Champlain College. (2017). Is your state making the grade?

(Links to an external site.)

FINRA. (2019, June 25). National study by federal foundation finds financial prosperity eludes many Americans despite strong economy.

Friedman, Z. (2019, Jan 11). 78% of workers live paycheck to paycheck.

(Links to an external site.)

Georgetown University Health Policy Institute. (2022). Prescription Drugs.,and%20those%20with%20chronic%20conditions.

Guiso, L., & Viviano, E. (2015). How much can financial literacy help? Review of Finance, 19(4), 1347-1382.

JP Morgan Chase. (2017, Jan 24). Emergency savings building pathways to financial health and economic opportunity.

(Links to an external site.)

Klapper, L., & Lusardi, A. (2020). Financial literacy and financial resilience: Evidence from around the world. Financial Management, 49(3), 589-614.

National Foundation for Credit Counseling. (2019). 2019 Road map of consumer financial health.

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