This is the first part of a series of reforms I am suggesting for America’s battered educational system.

I struggled with mathematics in school, especially in grade school where I simply didn’t get it. Partially this was due to poor teaching, but I’d also say that mathematics tended to be over emphasized in grade school, as if it was one of the top tools that my school used to measure success. I came into high school feeling less intelligent than I actually was, mostly due to the over emphasis on math in my grade school.

This had a lasting impact. In high school I was in AP or honors classes for all subjects except math. Because the SAT in the late late 90s was still very much math centric, logic was a big part, too but alot of math, I tested poorly relative to my overall GPA and I think it’s why I was rejected from some of my top choice colleges. I point this out because I believe my weakness in math was over represented as a student, especially when it came to the SAT which I didn’t like for this obvious reason. In short, the over emphasis on math was a poor way to gauge how my life would turn out. Despite the personal reason behind this suggestion, I simply don’t think much of what is taught in grade shcool and high school is practical when it comes to mathmatics.

My math weakness mattered less and less as I left primary and secondary school, especially when I got to the so called real world. Despite my lack of confidence in math, I started a career in finance which I’ve never left, ironic to say the least. During my 15 years or so in finance, I never once applied any advanced mathematics in my life, everything I needed to know had been taught by 9th grade.

I also began to notice just a few years out of school that those who were probably better at math than me, didn’t have the necessary discipline to properly save, invest, or spend their money wisely. They’d make poor decisions with their finances, things that seemed obvious to me. Despite what appeared common sense to me, for example, living below your means, is something I find isn’t taught and many in America don’t understand.

Math is obviously a foundation of education, children must understand it so I’m not saying we should do away with it but in the high school and college level especially, the emphasis must change. America is a society riddled in debt. One of the most egregious examples was seeing credit card companies on my college campus. This is the equivalent of offering Mafia style loan shark loans to gambling addicts while they are at the casino. Think about it. Students are already taking massive debt just to get ahead, now you are going to approach them with even more? This is one area where I am anti libertarian, credit card companies should not be allowed on college campuses.

High school and college students must understand the basics of finance as a complement to their understand of mathematics. Math is important but the first equation all students should solve is how to get out of debt! Now this is easier said than done with the way college tuition is spiking out of control but at a minimum all college students should have a mandatory class about their debt. I think many students, myself included, didn’t really understand what they were getting into. I know I was thinking about the classes I cared about and partying, I signed whatever papers were needed so I could get to that.

My Suggestions

  • Students must learn how credit cards work. Instead of classes on esoteric equations that are useless unless they become engineers, the basic math that students learn in school should be applied practically to something that will impact their lives: credit cards. It’s amazing how little people know about APRs, hidden late charges, and compounding debt as just a few examples.
  • It should be mandatory that schools educate children on savings. Why do we spend time on less practical subjects when how much one saves will have a far more lasting impact on someone’s life, and the lives of the next generations? Students must be taught what savings is and be given some examples of how to do it.
  • It’s important the students understand how to track their expenses. This can be done using a simple Excel sheet where they input all of their monthly costs which is subtracted from their income. This is something I do to this day.
  • Students must understand what a college loan is, how it works, and what they are getting themselves into.
  • There should be a basic class on the stock market, a discussion of how it works, the risks but also the rewards. Considering that many companies offer 401k matching, this should also be covered but students also need to understand how mutual funds and ETFs work.