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Jack Noland

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The Case for Economic Education

Posted: 03/14/2013 10:32 am

Jack is a member of the Junior State of America (JSA), a student-run political awareness organization for high school students.

"When am I ever going to need this?" Few traverse the American educational system without these words flashing through their minds. For those inclined toward the humanities, the finer points of thermodynamics may seem irrelevant. Those who live for calculus might groan at poetic analysis. Society has chosen to provide a more holistic education, which I fully commend, but this will inevitably lead to subjects that seem impractical to an individual student. Thus, we must seek out widely applicable education.

Money is something that nearly all youth interact with but few truly understand. It is, not coincidentally, a topic that is not covered in many American educations. Millions of current American students will one day enter the labor force, buy homes and pay taxes. There is no entrance exam to adulthood. Coming of age brings responsibility without screening for maturity. Young people, myself included, hardly ever enter adulthood fully prepared for its inherent difficulties, but instruction can help to lessen the blow.

Economics is fascinating as a subject because it's reach extends into a massive chunk of American society. Its omnipresence in everyday life is reflected by its prominent placement in local and national politics. Democrats and Republicans fire salvos over the aisle about the issue on a daily basis, and eyes turn to stock reports and financial journals for understanding of the current state of affairs. The complexity of the institutions that make up the American, and world, economy is mind-boggling. This is because everyone is a part of it. People buy and sell, and thus partake in our convoluted, rather amazing market. Its merits and flaws are up for debate and discussion, but its importance is not so. If every child in America is already entrenched in this system, we must ask why we are not teaching it in our schools.

The study of economics happens at a macro and micro level, and both must be stressed in the secondary education system. On the whole, the American tax structure is very difficult to understand, and yet all students must grapple with it as they age. Understanding how tax brackets work, the way interest affects money, and the role of the banking system in American economics should be vital to young people. By acknowledging these macroeconomic basics, and learning the language of money, Americans can remove political rhetoric from its pedestal and make it accessible to a far wider range of people. It is easy to get riled up by a pledge for lowered rates or a call for the wealthy to pay more, but as more of the population learns about what each measure would do, the better our discourse can become. A dearth of knowledge does not make for a well-informed nation.

On the other hand, economics affects everyone more closely at a smaller scale. The vast majority of American children will one day get a job, and thus will need to understand how to open and run a bank account, the true and lengthy dangers of debt, and the basics of credit.

An 18-year-old picking up a credit card without really comprehending the implications of missing a payment and making the minimal contribution to the interest can be likened to putting a teenager in the cockpit of a Cessna. Sure, they may be capable of getting it off the ground, but if they fall, they will go down hard. In Hamlet, Polonius advises, "never a borrower nor a lender be." With better instruction on loan management, perhaps we could have the knowledge to deny or embrace his venerable advice. A country of young people with less debt bears a significantly lighter burden on its forebears than one untrained. We have chosen, as an educational system, to move away from this teaching, and it is vital the nation reassesses its decision.

America's economy is undoubtedly improving, but to call it fully recovered would be disingenuous. As we sit on the cusp of economic well-being, it may be time we reexamine some of the country's collective priorities. On a larger scale, a thorough study of Wall Street reform is in order, but there are smaller changes America can make. In the spirit of practicality and pragmatism, moving toward a system that ensures an education in macro- and microeconomics would be a positive step. The web of money that forms the undercurrent of daily life is not going to get any simpler. Some financial institutions remain muddied. The best way to fight is through knowledge, and the simplest place to cultivate that understanding is in schools. Money is simply too important to be passed over by education.

 
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