By Bradley Harrington
“Schools teach exactly what they are intended to teach and they do it well: How to be a good Egyptian and remain in your place in the pyramid.” — John Taylor Gatto, “Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling,” 1992 —
So, according to a recently released story, the Wyoming Dept. of Education is “looking at ways to improve financial literacy and computer skills education in state schools.” (“Wyoming education officials looking at computer, money skills,” KGAB 650 AM, www.kgab.com, Sep. 12.)
Well, who could possibly be opposed to kids learning how to be “literate” financially? Indeed, according to WDE Communications Director Kari Eakins, “State Superintendent Jillian Balow and State Treasurer Mark Gordon have been discussing ways to upgrade financial literacy education for a year or so.”
Wow, just imagine the possibilities … Envision a “financial literacy” classroom full of students, with Mrs. Balow as the teacher and Mr. Gordon as a Special Financial Assistant.
“OK, class,” said Mrs. Balow, “let’s start off by defining our terms. Does anyone want to take a stab at what they think ‘financial literacy’ consists of?”
Johnny, whose dad owned his own company, raised his hand. “When you know what you’re doing with your money?”
“Very good, Johnny,” said Mrs. Balow. “But that’s only part of it; there’s also the proper methods by which money is acquired, as well as the best ways to spend it and save it.”
“OK, I get it,” Johnny replied. “So, after I get out of school, I should go out and get a job?”
“Why do that?” interrupted Steve. “After all, Kim’s dad next door hasn’t worked a day in the last ten years, but between his welfare checks, food stamps and Section 8 housing allowances, he seems to be doing all right.”
“But that’s not earning money,” said Johnny. “That’s just stealing it from someone else. Doesn’t somebody have to produce the wealth first, before it can be taken away and given to others? If we all did that, where would the needed wealth come from?”
“It’s not polite to call that ‘stealing,’ Johnny,” admonished Mrs. Balow. “After all, some people sometimes find themselves in the position of needing society’s help temporarily, and it’s our job, as good members of society, to help them when they need it.”
“Yeah!” exclaimed Kim. “Besides, when the Fed runs out of money, they can just print up more. That way, there’s plenty for everybody!”
“But that doesn’t make any sense,” mused Johnny. “It seems like that’s just a bunch of paper. My dad told me last week that real wealth has to have something behind it. How can mere paper be actual wealth?”
“Because President Obama says so,” retorted Suzie, “and Congress agrees with him. Who are you to challenge the leaders of our land? Besides, your dad is just a capitalist shill for the selfish, greedy Republicans, so his opinion can’t be trusted.”
“You still can’t spend money you don’t have!” countered Johnny.
“Sure you can,” Oscar chimed in. “The federal government has spent an extra $19 trillion so far, and that doesn’t count the $120 trillion in unfunded liabilities.”
“Somebody’s going to have to pay that bill eventually,” said Johnny. “What happens then?”
“That’s far too theoretical and intellectual,” said Timmy. “We can safely ignore all of that, and just focus on the immediate range of the moment and what works right now.”
“Maybe we can just start gambling in the stock market, make a few trillion and balance things out that way,” opined Cynthia. “After all” — pointing to Mr. Gordon — “that’s what he wants to do.”
“That still doesn’t explain the source for the needed wealth,” declared Johnny. “Before you can trade, you have to have something to trade with, right?”
“Absolutely not,” proclaimed Ted. “You just keep spending the paper on whatever ‘creates jobs.’ After all, isn’t that what our State Legislature is doing with the Capitol Renovation Project? Who are you to argue with them?”
“So,” queried Johnny, “let me make sure I have this right. It’s OK to take people’s money by force, to spend worthless paper you don’t have, and just completely ignore the consequences?”
“You think too much, Johnny,” Albert asserted. “Independent thought is a sign of rude, anti-social selfishness. Your job is to obey orders and follow the leader! After all, both Horace Mann and John Dewey said so, and they’re the founders of our modern system of education!”
“Tolerance, Johnny, you must have tolerance,” Mrs. Balow observed. “Quit trying to bully the rest of the students into accepting your strange ideas, or I’ll have to send you down to the office.”
The above is fiction; the principles discussed are not.
If we want to inculcate “financial literacy,” maybe we should begin by practicing what we preach. Because, after all, when it comes to teaching our children, actions speak much louder than words.
Bradley Harrington is a computer technician and a writer who lives in Cheyenne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE: This column was originally published in the “Wyoming Tribune Eagle” on September 23, 2016. Here is this column’s original downloadable PDF file.