Whom Shall We Trust to Teach Our Children about Personal Finance?
The philosopher Plato believed that two of the most important questions that a society needed to address were: (1) what will society teach its children and (2) who will do the teaching. Plato had some rather radical ideas about the answers to those questions, including yanking kids out of the home so that the elite (e.g., other philosophers) could do the educating. Plato did not think that your average parental unit could be trusted with that job. (If you’ve never heard of Plato, you need to question your own education.)
The problem is that baby boomers have mostly completed the task of raising their children. In the finance education department, the damage has already been done. Because public education generally ignores personal finance and economics as topics worthy of intense study, our youth have essentially been home schooled in these subjects. And we – the home school finance teachers – have been terrible. I say this because the generations behind us don’t seem to be doing much better. (Again, I have to give credit to our three sons – so far so good with them.)
But the kids keep coming – the need for personal finance education remains. Whom do we trust to provide that education? The story of today’s economy will likely be written in history text books as a follow-up to a discussion of the Great Depression. What will be said about it? What lessons will be taught so that the students learn not to repeat history? Will our government be criticized for its financial failures? Will baby boomers be labeled as credit abusers? I hope so but I’m not convinced that our public school teachers – as hard as they work and as devoted as they may be – are equipped to teach these lessons. Frankly, if I had kids in public school, I would want to know something about the personal finance lives and philosophies of those teachers before I turned them loose on my kids.
We certainly don’t want the government taking over the finance education of our youth. Who in government has demonstrated competency in that area? Paul Bernanke? Henry Paulson? George Bush? Barney Frank? None of them inspire me. They are all spenders to the core.
On the other hand, turning our kids over to Dave Ramsey or Suze Orman doesn’t sound right either.
Perhaps we should identify the sub-cultures in our society that have followed successful financial lives and use them as examples and even teachers. (First, let’s cross anyone associated with Hollywood or Washington, D.C. off the list.) The Amish come to mind for financial independence and frugal living. The Mormon church has some great ideas on economic survival and self-reliance. Now I’m struggling to think of other candidates. Plato – where are you when we need you? Can you readers help me?