403bwise is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

The K-12 403(b) is broken.
Together we can fix it.
Dan's Blog

Blog: The Most Important Class

February 12, 2020

I have taught at just about every level: elementary school, middle school, high school, and college. I have three degrees. I have taken countless classes and watched so many TED Talks (note: My favorite TED Talk is still "Do Schools Kill Creativity?"). I loved teaching history through a critical lens using primary sources. But hands down, the class I enjoy teaching the most, and the class students get the most out of, is personal finance.

Your Money or Your Life

In a nod to financial independence pioneers Vicki Robin and Joe Dominquez I have created a personal finance class for the Johnson Center for Integrative Studies at the University of Redlands called Your Money or Your Life. I won't see student evaluations until the end of the semester but I am pretty sure the students are benefiting from this course. To date we have covered the following:

  • Values & Money
  • Social Media & Spending
  • State of Student Loans
  • Paying Back Student Loans
  • Why Invest? What is a Stock? What is a Bond?
  • Let's Make a Mutual Fund! 

The overwhelming majority of the curriculum comes from Next Gen Personal Finance. This non profit, whose co-founder Tim Ranzetta supports 403bwise.org, flat out has the most comprehensive, teacher- and student-friendly curriulum available (totally free BTW). Not only that, but the activities are hands-on and engaging. Next week my students will play a dice game whose core goal is to simulate the psychological roller coaster that can be investing. Through the activity student will experience loss aversion (losing hurts more than winning feels good); recency effect (illusion of patterns); overconfidence (three wins in a row should, of course, lead to a fourth win); regret and excessive risk-taking. In future weeks students will play a video game in which they take on the role of a payday loan employee tasked with bilking borrowers for as much as possible. Note: the goal is not to teach them to be payday loan operators!! 😊 

Few Are Fine Most Are Not

As you can probably tell, I love teaching these topics to college students. The real shame is that I have to teach it to them at all. It's more than puzzling that personal finance is not a required high school subject. As the parent of a high school student, I know my son has some inspiring teachers teaching some terrific topics, but I also know there is a lot of useless, boring curriculum being dumped on kids. Why can't Ben and his fellow students have access to a personal finance class? My son is lucky because he is growing up in a financially literate household. At 15, he just opened a Roth IRA. He's an outlier but he shouldn't be. 

Documentary: The Most Important Class You Never Had

NGPF just released a must-watch 36-minute documentary spotlighting high school teachers and students from around the country using their curriculum. It is as inspiring as NGPF's mission: By 2030, ALL students will take a one semester personal finance course before graduating from high school.

You know what the second most important class is (at least for teachers)? Introduction to the 403(b).