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Friday, October 17, 2008

DonorsChoose: Start 'em young

I think that for many people, the idea of teaching young children about money feels a bit odd. I can understand that, because at first glance, I think that's how I would feel and I'm an economist saying this! Unfortunately, a lot of people associate money with greed, selfishness and other "bad" values that we generally don't want to pass on to our children. But money itself, and the role it plays in the world, carries none of those values inherently; all of those negative associations arise from people spending money in particular ways. One thing I find interesting is that there are also plenty of values that most people consider "good" that could also be associated with spending money in other ways (such as 'frugal', 'generous', 'good provider') but I don't think that's the first thing that comes to most people's minds.

At any rate, however you feel about money, I think most people would agree that those who have a better understanding of economics are probably more likely to spend their money wisely. Understanding trade-offs and incentives, that there is no such thing as a free lunch, and how to compare costs and benefits are crucial for making good decisions (and not just about money). I'd also argue that understanding markets, both when they work and when they don't, is crucial for being an informed citizen. So I am excited that some teachers, like Mrs. S. at C. Wayne Collier Elementary School in Hope Mills, North Carolina, are trying to expose students to these concepts as early as possible. Ms. S. wants to give her first graders the experience of being producers and consumers in a simulated market where they will make and 'sell' crafts. However, she needs some help with buying the materials. You can help her out by donating on the DonorsChoose website. You can also check out the other economics projects I'm promoting, or search for other worthy projects.

3 comments:

  1. I learned about "money" having an allowance and earning "money" in various ways as early as 8, I remember. My father managed a grocery store at the time, and I went in for 3 days to help with inventory. At the end got my little manilla envelope with some 12 dollars in it. I felt very grown up and put in my savings account.
    My parents, born in 1930 and '39 were children of poor Italian immigrants. I never went without, but there was clearly the notion that money doesn't grow on trees in our house.
    "Shut off the lights" wasn't about ecology.
    Few in my immediate or extended family really understand economics. Few have college degrees. The basics of owning rental property, and your house, they seem to have figured out along the way.
    What I think they didn't have was an appetite for consumerism, in the way that Americans have become accustomed to: buying on credit, just because you can.
    No moral of the story, just an eye opener towards generational and perhaps cultural differences that may somehow be the difference between to making smart and not so smart decisions.

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  2. That's an excellent concept. Money is not bad; just the way some people spend their money can be bad. It reminds me of the concept about guns and other weapons. Guns don't kill people, people kill people. The sooner we teach our kids the ways to spend money responsibly, the more lasting the impression will stay in their heads.

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  3. @cleocatra: I certainly didn't mean to imply that one can't make good decisions about money without training in economics. I think that individuals with good sense about money tend to pass that on to their kids but if students aren't getting it from their parents or other family member, then all else equal, I think it's good for them to get it at school.

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