Mathenomics in Education: It Doesn’t Add Up
The Education System Doesn't Seem to Equip Us for Financial Matters
[Disclaimer: The content of this article is an opinion piece by the Professor, and does not necessarily represent the views of Medium, Sales Wallet, its General Knowledge publication, or their affiliations.]
During the first week of August 2021, I published this article regarding having a financial plan. Well, I’ve discussed the matter from the personal accountability perspective (student and parent). This time, I want to talk about things from the perspective of curricula.
We have heard the argument over and over again that Algebra 2 is problematic, and that it needs to be replaced with economics or something like that. I don’t disagree. And while there is an avalanche of opinions, editorials, and other articles explaining why I want to take this from another perspective.
While it has been argued that most secondary and post-secondary students have a poor understanding of economics and financial matters, (and sadly, in most curricula, it is by design) and that many more still take nothing from what they do learn, that they usually go off to college without that financial plan I mentioned in my previous article. So what’s the issue with math? The actual issue.
Simple. Most people aren’t math people.
You’d be surprised how many people are great math people but not money people, and others are great money people but not good math people. The key comes down to its practicality of it. There are many kinds of learners out there, and education has to account for them all. However, because classrooms are so overwhelmed (teacher to student ratios nationwide are just ridiculous, especially in low-income areas), it’s tough to create “comprehensive, relatable” education (remember this, we’ll be back to this concept in a moment). Therefore, it is a reasonable conclusion that most secondary curricula, even when economics or finance are included, do not help enough.
However, all of that is information most of you already know. You didn’t come here for old takes; you came for something new. The general consensus is that Algebra 2 is the bugaboo that either needs reform or removal. You’ve heard this spiel before; take Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2, and turn this into two years, and then transform one of the years into a year of Finance or Economics. That way, high schoolers can have some sort of understanding before college. Why? Because the math isn’t as relatable as finance, and I’d be hard-pressed to disagree. And this would be backed up by many stories, including that of one of my closest friends. During his collegiate studies, cruised through business math but shut down in Algebra 1. He always told me, “I didn’t find it practical, so I couldn’t process it.” I’ve known him for about 10 years and can say with conviction that he is responsible for money, and has a better understanding of economics and finance than I do. He has a passion for it. But I would argue that he is an outlier, and because of this, this “Algebra 2 consolidation” isn’t enough.
The formula many have been pushing for is to consolidate algebra and allow economics or finance. But, then what? Then what do you do? So why do I think it’s not enough? Take my friend. He has invested massive time into finance, and has since he was barely out of high school (he’s in his 30s now), plays stock options, and plans a long-term future. And sure everyone wants money, but when is the last time you heard about Joe Q. Citizen discuss Integral Theory? In a society that is focused on accumulating money and consumerism, but de-emphasizes entrepreneurship (and by extension, autonomy). Everyone wants the reward, but not as many want to put in the work, and even fewer people have success. Has anyone stopped to wonder why?
I believe the answer is simple.
The economics and finance taught at the secondary level are often every bit as irreconcilable as the algebra we “want” to get rid of so much. I’m not talking about business and finance for MBA students, just the basics and what is practical for high schoolers. That honestly brings me back to my first Vocal/Medium article; not nearly enough is taught in a practical manner. We expect students to understand pure theory and concepts they cannot relate to for years, and only at the most advanced levels do students finally get to things they can specialize in. If you’re thinking what I’m thinking; you’re right: post-secondary education is just as to blame, if not more so.
I’ve spent a lot of time talking about how secondary curricula fail to bring economics high school students, but now I need to talk about undergraduate systems. And, to preface this part of the argument, I’m not talking about those with high accessibility or opportunity ratios, but students from low and middle-income families who would need financial aid to even get through college. We have put these poor students so far in the red: math they can barely relate to for most of the pre-collegiate years, lack of access to genuine finance and economics courses, and now: college. They don’t know how financial aid works, many don’t know how to apply for scholarships and other aid, and sometimes they don’t even apply to financial aid, extending their time in college, handcuffing their lifetime earning potential, and in many cases, still not getting the financial knowledge the need. Let’s take a more direct look at this.
This is the story for many fresh college graduates. In addition to often being forced to choose a discipline/career without the “plan”, these students also:
- Go through high school without real finance and/or economics courses.
- Enter college without education specifically on financial aid.
- Have to go to college and spend copious amounts of money on nonspecific core curricula.
- Often have to go beyond college (e.g., MBA programs) to get the training they need to produce in society.
Seriously, it’s not just from a financial perspective. I was a Biology major in college, and part of my school’s core curriculum was two courses of physical education. Yes, you read that right. College making folks take freaking P.E. I mean, I also had economics in my core curriculum, but that course was so innocuous, I have far more knowledge of the “boring math” I took over the years and the financial information I looked up independently than anything I had in that course.
I mean it’s almost like the traditional education system is purposefully producing a factory of financially low-literate young adults just ready to drown in student loan debt while consuming excessively and failing to build any lasting wealth or autonomy. But that sounds crazy, doesn’t it?
This was a bit of a departure from what I’m used to, but thank you for reading. I welcome your feedback, and have a great day!