Teach Us About Personal Finance

Digital illustration by Nava Mach.

GDS offers a wide variety of elective courses about math, science, history and more. Through assemblies and classes, the school provides a thorough education on social, political and environmental topics.

Yet how often do teachers or administrators—or even friends—discuss personal financial skills? For many students, the answer is probably rarely. 

History teacher Topher Dunne, who teaches GDS’ economics class, described to me the disastrous effects that arise from poor financial choices. “There are a lot of ways that the system is primed to take advantage of anybody who is even a little bit inattentive,” he said, “and it ends up costing them personally.”

Young people today, reliant on technology, are captive audiences and easy prey to aggressive online marketing. When we shop online, our screens are overwhelmed with ads specifically targeted to us, making it easier to fall victim to financial scams or manipulation. 

Therefore, our generation is in dire need of financial literacy classes. Learning finance skills—like the fundamentals of saving, investing, spending and debt—can result in better personal decision-making. It can also help to understand how the economy we will enter and live in for the rest of our lives works.

Sophomore Leah Li told me she founded the Economics Club with junior Susan Lin because she was struggling to find peers who shared her interest in the subject. Because the club currently includes several beginners, its focus is on discussing the basics of economics. Towards the end of the year, Li plans to incorporate more complicated and timely issues.

“A lot of people aren’t interested because they don’t know a lot about the topic,” Li explained. According to her, only about 10 people attend each meeting of the club. 

While some GDS students may not have been exposed to financial literacy lessons or been forced to confront personal finance due to their economic privilege, everyone will need to understand how to deal with money as adults.

Education about personal finance—in classes and clubs—will help GDS students leave high school with an understanding not just of core subjects but of real-life skills. GDS should step beyond its normal academic role to give us the practical knowledge needed for success in life. “When people graduate and walk into society this becomes an issue of vital importance,” Li said. 

Senior Ike Cymerman, a head of the Finance Club, decided to start what was then called the Investment Club his sophomore year because of the lack of finance courses offered by GDS. According to Cymerman, the club discusses a variety of financial topics in the news and averages just six attendees per meeting. 

“There’s an assumption you can learn financial literacy on your own,” Cymerman said, “so GDS doesn’t treat it as important compared to other classes in the core curriculum.” He added that he would support creating an elective course about personal finance.

On and off in the past, Dunne said, GDS has required seniors to take a short class in life skills including laundry and personal economics.

GDS should introduce students to financial skills throughout high school so we can fully grasp them before leaving for college. Personal finance could be implemented as a small part of freshman seminar class, and the senior skills class should be brought back and cover financial literacy in depth.

Dunne, who used to teach freshman seminar, suggested that financial illiteracy could be incorporated into discussion of socioeconomic status. 

That would expand students’ awareness of the societal impacts of widespread financial illiteracy and how to reduce it. Even a guest speaker during an assembly would be an easy way to start and expand conversations about basic personal finance skills. Students should have basic financial literacy before we obtain credit cards and incur debt, and GDS is well suited to help us gain those skills through assemblies, classes and clubs.