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Some Important Bedfellows: Financial Literacy, Art, Reading and Writing

Back Commentary Jun 3, 2024 By Winnie Comstock-Carlson

This story is part of our June 2024 issue. To subscribe, click here.

When I think of our young people, my thoughts automatically turn to education, a huge and favorite topic of mine. Some young achievers go quite far and quite fast, and others don’t. The differentiator is often education.

How well are our schools faring in the most basic topics for our youngest learners — topics like financial literacy; the connection between various arts, math and science; reading skills; and perhaps most important: critical thinking? (The latter isn’t taught much in public schools these days but is available at the college level — it’s in a few disciplines right here at Sac State and other CSU campuses.) Let’s talk about it. 

Financial literacy almost sounds like an oxymoron — two words that don’t seem to belong together, one dealing with economics and the other English. Recent news stories suggest that there are efforts underway to make financial literacy a mandatory class for high schoolers. That’s music to my ears! Most high schoolers have never balanced or even seen a checkbook (and possibly never will in our tap-happy world of smartphones, credit cards and bank apps), but knowing how to create and stay on a budget is extremely important. 

Professionals in social services have long understood the need to teach financial literacy to their clients. One example of this is when 17-year-old foster-care youth are “emancipated” from the system. They’re no longer considered children, and they need to learn what things cost — food, rent, transportation, clothing and advanced education, if they choose to pursue that. The foster care system has challenges of its own, but I think they’re absolutely on point when it comes to this topic.  

Junior Achievement is another example. It recognizes financial literacy as one of its major study areas. Junior Achievement teaches young people from schools within lower-income neighborhoods as well as lower academic achievers. Their program has been invaluable to many young people. 

In today’s world of huge credit card debt, teaching how money works could also be a welcome course for adults who’ve been caught unaware in the swirls of inflation, recession, stagflation and whatever else our various governments throw at us. Courses exist today that teach adults how to stay out of debt; an especially popular course is taught by financial guru and media host Dave Ramsey.  

Education also makes me think about the connection existing between music and math — and really, all of the arts. A recent article from USC showed that the two disciplines share a profound and curious relationship that goes back through the ages. Math is somehow woven into every aspect of art, from the literal weaving of threads into fabric to the way we organize musical scales, to the physics that dictate an instrument’s sound. Excelling in one discipline (music) may make excelling in the other (math), or vice versa, more likely. How might we combine these two study areas?

As a publisher, you might guess that one of my most serious concerns among our youngest learners deals with basic reading and writing skills — or shall I say, the increasing lack of those skills in school curricula. Kids today spend a great deal of time texting each other. The language of texting should convince all of us that we’re losing something very important. What do ROFL, ICYMI, TLDR, AFAIK, LMK and NVM mean, for example? (Spoiler alert: they mean rolling on the floor laughing, in case you missed it, too long; didn’t read, as far as I know, let me know, never mind.) I had to look those up.

I’m certainly not the first to point out that California’s public schools have long been falling way behind in myriad arenas, one being basic reading skills. Are we seeing any improvements? And how about critical thinking? Is that being taught any longer? It’s taught at the college level but pretty much confined to courses for English majors and graduate students. 

Then there’s standardized testing, which is mandatory in all public schools — but not in California’s private schools. Why shouldn’t the same standardized tests be implemented for private schools as well so that regular analysis can be done to determine why private school systems regularly out-perform public schools? 

Finally, a nostalgic aside, one which may seem out of place in the AI universe: Whatever happened to the teaching of cursive writing, what we used to call “penmanship” many years ago, when our ability to do it neatly was part of the grade we received for our essays? I was very glad to recently hear that after being removed from the curriculum for over 14 years, cursive writing may be making a comeback in schools. I hope so. It has been suggested that there’s a connection between cursive writing and certain brain function. There’s not a lot of science yet to prove that, but the concept is interesting. Cursive writing can be an art unto itself, a gracefully visual way of expressing ourselves. I do hope we don’t lose it. Since we have to think before we write, perhaps it’s even a form of critical thinking.

Here’s a question we may want to be asking: What should our schools be teaching our kids today? What are your critical thoughts?

Winnie Comstock-Carlson
President and Publisher

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