Subtitle: Before you fix the problem, correctly identify the victim and the perpetrator.
I was just watching testimony in the House Education Committee, Minnesota Legislature, supporting a bill that would require some sort of financial literacy in schools. A long list of benefits was suggested, including fewer individuals succumbing to the effects of bad decisions about personal finance, and a healthier economy. This initiative was even touted as a life and death matter, since suicide is known to be linked at times to financial disasters that may have been avoided or lessened when a person is better able to handle their own finances and avoid depressing, troubling, personal disaster.
All these points are true and I do think that things would be better if students came out of high school with better financial literacy under their graduation caps than they might otherwise.
However, I don’t support this bill for several reasons. This bill is one in a continuous stream of bills our legislature introduces, one or two a year, in which a societal ill is linked in the minds of a few legislators to an inadequacy in our school system, which of course, we can fix by simply telling the teachers to get on the ball and make these newly molded citizens to be less flawed than they obviously are. These bills do not take into account several important facts, which almost always apply, regardless of the issue being addressed, such as financial literacy, critical thinking, civics and so on.
1) Chances are we already do what the bill is asking for. In this case, testimony demonstrated that FACS classes exist, and include financial literacy. So, the net improvement in all the things proposed by the legislation would be much less than suggested, because we have already done 80% or more of what can be done.
2) Schools sometimes ignore legislation of this type, because they simply can’t do what is required, and there is no mechanism for enforcement. Nobody is going to close a school down because some students graduated without civics.
3) (To integrate numbers 1 and 2 above) the schools least likely to actually implement the proposed changes are also the ones that are not doing this if this bill becomes a law. Basically, schools already want to teach financial literacy (or civics or what have you), but there is a reason a given school can’t, usually having to do with being underfunded. A law of this type will not close the above hinted 20% gap. The effect of the bill will be virtually nothing.
4) The plate effect. This is a plate:
This is a teacher’s plate:
So, where you gonna put this extra new thing you think teachers were not doing?
5) Teaching something in school does not guarantee that the specific thing that was learned is now a functional arrow in each student’s respective quiver. We teach kids how to learn, how to approach problems, how to think, by teaching teaching them a bunch of stuff to know. Then, over time, the stuff they know (at the time of the test) fades away, leaving a better person, but not necessarily a person who can recall that specific knowledge. Every one of those legislators would fail almost every one of the High School (or College) tests they took way back when, were they given the test right now. But we still regard them as educated individuals.
6) This other thing that makes this so unfair: Financial troubles are not the fault of the students (or the teachers). They are the fault of the corporations that control the finances. Fix that, legislators.
And now it is time for an instructive parable.
I was in financial trouble just now. I was suddenly knocked back on my financial heels by a $500 bill that came out of nowhere. Here’s what happened, in temporal order:
1) I had emergency eye surgery. It was covered by a health insurance plan.
2) Following an unfortunate divorce, I continued to have the same exact insurance. Same company, same primary payer, same exact level of coverage. Every single thing about this insurance was identical. IDENTICAL I TELL YOU! Except for one tiny little ting thing. The policy number changed.
3) I had a required follow-up appointment following this surgery. That appointment cost $500. Eye doctors are expensive.
4) The insurance company refused to pay the bill.
5) The insurance company sent me a notice that they figured out that I was being covered by a different insurance company, so that other company should pay the bill. It included a form that I could fill out saying either who that company was, or I could check a box indicating that I did not have another insurance policy. I did not have another insurance policy. I checked the box and mailed it back to them.
6) The insurance company sent me a notice that they figured out that I was being covered by a different insurance company, so that other company should pay the bill. It included a form that I could fill out saying either who that company was, or I could check a box indicating that I did not have another insurance policy. I did not have another insurance policy. I checked the box and mailed it back to them.
(Note: Yes, 5 and 6 are the same thing. They did it twice! I think each of these two letters originated from each of the two policy numbers. In other words, Company A, my insurance company, thought Company A, itself, was the other insurance company.)
7) Meanwhile, the health care provider had been me increasingly wrought notices that I must pay the bill or else.
8) Finally, my heath care provider sent me a note suggesting that I call my insurance company at the number on the insurance company’s insurance coverage card.
8b) The card has no number on it, but since I took a “business machines” class in high school last century, I knew how to get a phone number and was able to call them anyway.
9) I called. They looked up my account. The person on the phone intoned a paragraph of words no one would ever understand, not even a lawyer in the insurance industry. Eventually she translated for me: The problem was solved internally and I had no reason to call after all. The bill would be covered.
HOLY MOTHERFUCKNIG CHRIST PEOPLE !!!!!! The insurance company and health care providers probably spent a couple of hundred bucks on these useless paperwork shenanigans. I spent close to an hour messing around, which is below the average amount of hapless consumer time spent on this sort of thing. So, nearly HALF OF THE COST OF MY FOLLOW-UP APPOINTMENT can be attributed to the inability of a huge insurance company to handle a change in an account number.
All insurance companies should be forced to take a financial literacy in high school.
People don’t have financial woes because they did not learn about interest rates in high school. They have financial woes because usury interest rates are allowed by our representative government. People don’t get ripped off by charlatans or sold bad mortgages because they did not take a financial literacy class in high school. These things happen to them because of regulatory creep, allowed by our elected representatives. People don’t live hand to mouth, barely, and have their finances fall apart over the littlest thing because they did not take financial literacy in high school. These thing happen because our minimum wage standard is laughable, our tax burden is unfairly distributed, and there is very little done in our society to develop job security. These are all failures of our legislative bodies. People don’t have health care related financial disaster because they did not take a financial literacy class in high school. This happens to them because our legislative bodies can’t modernize our health delivery system
Stop blaming the teachers, stop blaming the schools, stop blaming the kids. They are the victims, not the perpetrators of all that cause personal financial disaster.
4 thoughts on “There oughta (not) be a law! Why legislators should not require specific topics to be covered in K-12 classrooms”
Yup. Back in the dark ages when I was in high school we had to take two semesters of economics: learned taxes, basic financial mathematics, etc, and none of that would have helped one bit if I’d had a serious injury or illness while I was an undergrad or grad student. And those years were the 70s/early 80s. Things have gotten monumentally worse.
The blame won’t stop. As we’ve seen in Florida as DeSantis continues his march to one-man authoritarian rule, lying and blaming education for no end of ills pays off quite well. The only hope we have is that followers of the right’s leaders stop believing those lies — and evidence is strong that we won’t get that lucky any time soon.
Here is the law for required content – Statewide for MN schools (K-12):
120B.021 REQUIRED ACADEMIC STANDARDS.
§Subdivision 1.Required academic standards. (a) The following subject areas are required for statewide accountability:
(1) language arts;
(4) social studies, including history, geography, economics, and government and citizenship that includes civics consistent with section 120B.02, subdivision 3;
(5) physical education;
(6) health, for which locally developed academic standards apply; and
(7) the arts, for which statewide or locally developed academic standards apply, as determined by the school district. Public elementary and middle schools must offer at least three and require at least two of the following four arts areas: dance; music; theater; and visual arts. Public high schools must offer at least three and require at least one of the following five arts areas: media arts; dance; music; theater; and visual arts.
Here is a link to the full law (it is long):
I don’t know if it is a good idea to add more subjects to the law. But I escaped high school without any economics or financial education. Two years of high school in Michigan and two years in Minnesota.
I do wish I had learned how to budget in high school. As I have walked through life I have been surprised by how much I didn’t know about finances and had to learn by myself. It would be nice if they taught kids about loans, credit cards, budgeting, home ownership and mortgages (and avoiding PMI if possible), investing, retirement planning, and the ins and outs of medicare and social security. Of course, most kids would think these topics have nothing to do with them and would tune out (I probably would have). But the closer I get to 65 the more research I seem to have to do for social security and medicare. It is not easy.
I went to 9th and 10th grade at Brother Rice, then my family moved to Minnesota in 1977 and I attended 11th and 12th grade at Minnetonka High School. “Escaped” just means it never came up as an option.
I was heavy in Math and Science since I wanted to go into Engineering, and I did get my BSEE from the University of Minnesota, before going to Hamline Law School so I could become a patent attorney.
Of course I learned how to budget eventually – but I do wish I had learned more about financial matters in high school. Having two years of college calculus (through vector calculus) and being somewhat ignorant of basic budgeting is weird. Maybe switching schools halfway through high school was a drawback.
Maybe my parents should have taught me – but it never came up.