The Tragedy of High School Economics

Education's Failure to Prepare Students for the Future

High School Economics Sounds Great In Theory. But Is It Really As Great As It Sounds?

We were given two options: Take AP Government and Politics or half a year of Economic and the other half PIG (also know as Participation in Government, although PIG may be more fitting for a politics class). Neither option was particularly great. Either work your ass off your senior year in AP for college credit you may not need or be bored out of your skull in the two most useless classes you will ever take. Lacking motivation for anything to do with schoolwork and contracting a severe case of senioritis, I decided to ditch the AP credit for the easy way out.

Misery soon followed that decision. I was put in the class of burnouts and losers who somehow managed to get 30s on the easiest tests in the world (the teacher was particularly pleased that the only people who did test corrections were the ones who scored 90+). Our teacher desperately tried to get us to discuss current events, threatening us with a pop quizzes if we didn't. Sill, only two of us ever answered his questions. 

Part of the problem was that we were being taught bullshit. None of us saw how this information would impact us in the future, so why should we care? What we needed to know was how to live life. For example, how do we balance a checkbook? How do taxes work? What exactly is a 401(k)? How do we get a job? Our main project that semester was to research five stocks to 'invest' in. But none of us knew what we were looking at. The teacher was no help, offering no explanation other than "look at Yahoo finance." We were thrown into the middle of the ocean without a life preserver before we were even taught how to swim.

We were bored. We were miserable. And above all: we hated economics.

Fast forward one year, the first class of my college career. I'm sitting in a dark room 20 minutes early for an 8 a.m. Macroeconomics class. I'm only excited because it helps me reach my goals of getting that little piece of paper to get me a decent job. I planned on getting an A and never thinking about it again.

And boy was I in for a shock.

The professor actually knew what she was talking about! Didn't tell us to fill out a worksheet on the textbook reading and call it a day. She actually taught us the information in a way that was both understandable and usable. She engaged us, using examples and showing us how Economics impacted us. She let us choose any topic we wanted for our final paper, saying we would care more if we enjoyed it what we had to research (I wound up with way too much info on the effects of tax breaks in the film industry). For the first time, I saw the beauty in economics. By mid-semester, I had even decided that I wanted to become an economist (it is fair to note, at this point, that I am no longer pursuing a career in economics, but in finance instead).

With my newfound love for economics, it made me reflect on my past hatred for the subject. What had spurred my hatred for the class?

Maybe, in theory, some people really wanted to educate students on economics. A more economically educated society would help when it came to finding the best solution to problems when the people have the power to vote on which political candidate had the best economic policy. But when the classes are so poorly run, one must wonder the real intent. I mean, if the intent was truly meant to educate, why are the classes allowed to fail students? That leads me to my theory. Essentially, the high school class was never designed to teach us economics. It was designed because some schmucks in the Capitol though "oh, that sounds smart. Taxpayers will pay for that." It creates another requirement to hold students in school while they are still considered too young and dumb to make their own life choices, without actually giving them the tools they need to succeed in life.

If you need more proof that this was a pointless class, let's look at its other half, PIG. In PIG, we watched Hollywood blockbusters and were told to answer five questions on them while the teacher talked sports with the guys. He didn't teach us a single thing all semester. For the mandatory end-of-year testing to prove that we had actually learned something, we were all told to research the answers on our laptops (yep, let's cheat the system).

I am all for economic and financial literacy. But the schools are failing students at the most basic levels. And this wasn't one of those inner-city schools that people are always talking about failing students because there is not enough funding, classes are too big, they are in bad neighborhoods, and some students just slip through the cracks. This was a suburban school in upstate New York. We are not taught the basics of budgeting, no one knows how taxes work, and none of the students have any idea they need to start planning for retirement as early as their first job.

The public school system is failing students. Every student knows it. There are memes all over the internet about how we can't balance a checkbook, but thank God we know the Pythagorean theorem. Maybe, instead of trying to create useless measures on how to judge a student's intelligence, they should actually look at the classes themselves to find the failures in their system. Maybe talk to some students to get their perspectives on classes. Maybe, we should focus on teaching the students the math and skills that will impact their daily lives in addition to basic economics classes.

But what do I know? I'm just a college student who actually had to take these dumb classes.

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The Tragedy of High School Economics