Why Don't We Learn Money in School?

kids learning reflections

"I'm so glad I learned about parallelograms in school instead of how to do my taxes," goes the popular meme. "It really helps during parallelogram season."

How do we log so many hours in school yet somehow skip the big money questions we face as adults?

I know. I've complained about it too.

But here's the weird part about our griping: every Canadian province and U.S. state mandates personal finance in the curriculum. Yes, personal finance is already in the curriculum. Yet, none of us feel like we learned much about it in school.

What's happening? Are students just ignoring the material? Are teachers?

One of my colleagues offered an alternative explanation recently: students likely encounter personal finance material but feel indifferent about it. Learning to calculate the amortization schedule on a mortgage (an actual curricular topic) feels as relevant as learning to diagram sentences. Relevance is vague and practical application feels distant.

Does a 16-year-old care about the tax implications of retirement contributions? Will making a mock budget in class at 15 actually help students spend within their means when they're 25?

I'm skeptical, and the research on this topic is mixed. So perhaps we should just officially ditch teaching personal finance in school and let reality match our perception?

Or maybe we need to rethink our approach.

What would happen if we focused on behaviorsmindsets, and emotional health related to personal finance rather than teaching rote financial information?

Imagine understanding why we're more likely to commit $25/month to a "Buy Now, Pay Later" scheme for a pair of shoes but not do the same with a passive investment account. Or how lifestyle creep can make us feel like we never have enough, no matter how much we make. Or how falling into the comparison trap inevitably deprives us of joy.

What if students were shown how delaying school obligations could mirror the tendency to postpone paying off a credit card bill? Or how avoiding homework might be an analogy for tax evasion (okay, too far)?

What would happen if we framed our personal finance education around this real adult struggle: even when we know what to do with money, we often don't do it anyway.

Maybe then we'd see fewer angry memes about parallelograms every tax season.

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Written by Farooq Maseehuddin

Farooq Maseehuddin (Muslim Money Guy) is a financial educator and writer. He holds both a Bachelor of Education (BEd.) and a Master of Education (MEd.) from the University of Alberta. He's been a high school teacher and Muslim community organizer for nearly two decades.

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