Schools waste kids’ time by teaching them the wrong math.
Since half of Americans die with less than $10,000 in savings, it appears that maybe they’re not too good at handling money. The educational system seems to be failing in teaching practical financial skills to students. Kids aren’t learning math and money skills that they can apply to everyday life.
Schools seem to favor theoretical math over basic “practical math.” If useful math and money skills were taught in middle school and high school, students would enter the real world equipped to earn and manage their own money. Instead, the education system focuses on esoteric topics that help make future mathematicians and scientists. But how many children grow up and use calculus on a regular basis, compared to those who must balance a checkbook?
Which helps you more in life: knowing how to solve a quadratic equation or understanding how actuaries calculate your pension payments?
My high school math classes included in-depth study of calculus, trigonometry, geometry, and such. As a 20-year veteran on Wall Street, I will admit that other than helping my kids with their homework, I haven’t used any of those disciplines in handling my clients’ money.
Those in favor of keeping the current math curriculum argue that learning complex mathematics helps develop the skills of critical thinking. I agree. But there are plenty of demanding math techniques that also have practical applications. Why not teach those first?
For example, teach the kids ratios, standard deviation, statistics and probability, sampling and estimation, correlation analysis and regression, technical and fundamental analysis of businesses. Wouldn’t studying these before studying the more obscure number topics also help develop the skills of “critical thinking?”
Math has practical applications
Imagine if children learned math that helped them when they went to work. Since about 100% of high-school graduates will eventually hold a job compared to the 1% or so who will use calculus in their careers, shouldn’t schools teach practical topics? Wouldn’t it be helpful to learn the math and concepts behind market forces of supply and demand, gross national product, interest rates, business cycles, inflation, cash flows, and, of course, investments?
As a financial adviser, I talk with thousands of people about their money and through my online school, I teach the basics of investing. It’s surprising to me when folks have credit card debt, yet cannot calculate the interest that they will owe on it. Or, I’ll talk to them about a price/earnings ratio, which is the first number that people look at when checking out a stock, but the clients don’t get the concept of how a ratio works and I have to explain it.
Shouldn’t the next generation of children enter the workforce knowing how to read their brokerage statements and understand them?
I am a big believer in math. I studied many complex topics in college, and I think others should, too. But first teach kids practical math in school, and then if they decide to study further, only then start with the abstruse topics.
About the Author: Douglas Goldstein, CFP®, is the director of Profile Investment Services, Ltd, a financial planning firm located in Jerusalem. He specializes in working with clients in New York, Florida, and Israel and is a licensed financial professional both in the U.S. and Israel. Securities are offered through Portfolio Resources Group, Inc., Member FINRA, SIPC, MSRB, SIFMA. Accounts held at Pershing LLC., Member NYSE/SIPC, a subsidiary of The Bank of New York Mellon Corporation. Neither Profile nor PRG gives tax or legal advice. Before immigrating to Israel, it is advisable to consult with a tax attorney who is knowledgeable about Israeli law. Doug’s newest book The Expatriates’ Guide to Handling Money and Taxes is available at www.expatguidetomoney.com. He hosts a weekly finance show, Goldstein on Gelt, on internet radio. Listen live or download podcasts. Toll-free from U.S. 1-888-327-6179, Jerusalem: (02) 624-2788. Follow on Twitter: @DougGoldstein or contact at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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