I am an English teacher. Like most English teachers, I hate math. I hate math because it is both immutable and not something I’m good at. In my class math is known as witchcraft, and is banned in my room.
And yet, without fail, I find myself having to teach a math lesson at least twice a month. This makes me very, very angry.
This makes me angry for two reasons: first, math sucks; second, your school system is doing your child a disservice.
The lessons I teach are not about square routes or polynomials (whatever they are), but about simple finance. For some reason, with all the importance most people place on money, there are no “money” classes in most schools.
I teach American literature. One of the first people we cover when the school year begins is Benjamin Franklin. When Franklin died he left the cities of Boston and Philadelphia 1000 pounds each, about $5000 in today’s money.
He left this money with the caveat that it not be touched for 200 years so it may collect interest. Inevitably, this is when the first hands go up. “What is interest?” I explain to the best of my ability and even labor through an example on the board, but every new financial term and concept I use begets more questions and confusion.
Next come the questions of curiosity: “Why is money worth something?” When I explain that the paper money in their pockets has been absolutely valueless since 1971, I nearly have a riot on my hands. They don’t believe me. When I attempted to explain what a fiat system is, I almost have to call security to extract me from the CZ that is now my classroom.
I explain that money only has value because people think it has value. I tell them that the Romans originally used salt as money, the Lenape around where we live used to use seashells and string, and Manhattan was bought for what would be roughly $72 in today’s world. I try to make them understand: something is only worth the value placed on it by others.
It goes on like this the entire school year. I field questions about how credit and credit card works, how to balance a check book, how to buy a house, what a mortgage is, what stocks and bonds are, what is an investment, what is debt, why is everyone losing their house, and all other manner of monetary, mathematical, and financial chicanery. It doesn’t take long to realize that most students have little to no understanding of how money works, and they’re already seventeen and eighteen.
Financially, we are the first generation in America not to be doing better than our parents. And I can promise you, if you leave it to the English educators to teach finance to your children it will stay that way. We need practical finance classes in our schools now!
As for Franklin, after 200 years his 1000 pound donation grew to $2 million for Philadelphia, and $5 million for Boston. What did these cities use the money for? Education, of course, because it is as Franklin said:
“The only thing more expensive than education is ignorance.”