School curriculum looking at something useful: financial literacy

Sam Waltz, Founding Publisher
Sam Waltz, Founding Publisher

By Sam Waltz

Founding Publisher

Like many readers of this publication, who view the appropriate role of government in society as one with modest aspirations and scope, I’ve always counseled that government should not be cast in the role of doing something more appropriately done by others, at home, and in the community.

That view of government is a Founders’ view, that government exists to do for society what it cannot do for itself, individually and to some extent in a voluntary collective; e.g., defense, statecraft, regulation of commerce, public education, infrastructure like roads and bridges and civil structure, etc. (No, it never included health care, which is amply available for purchase in the marketplace!)

And many of us never have wanted public education – as a creation of local government – to veer too far from the ABCs, reading, writing and arithmetic. Driver’s ed stretched our limits of tolerance.

Financial literacy – including entrepreneurship – is something that increasingly seems prime for a focus of public education, even government.

The political left effectively has dominated the court of public opinion in recent years, framing its issue of “economic inequality,” while the business community has more appropriately believed the role of government is to address equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome.

Gov. Jack Markell this month signed H.B. 10, creating the Office of Financial Empowerment. The bill creates a State Office of Financial Empowerment within the Department of Health and Social Services to ensure the sustainability of the $tand By Me program.

$tand By Me is an innovative financial empowerment program that offers free one-on-one support to Delawareans who want to understand more about their money, make good financial decisions, and enjoy choices for savings and loans. It includes coaching to take better control of one’s own finances.

“This landmark legislation will mark Delaware as a national model as it will become the first state in the nation to take a stand on economic security,” said Gov. Markell.

Frankly, two issues make this kind of evolution critical throughout the country, not just in Delaware.

First, self-management of personal financials seems so increasingly complex that it too often is beyond even the wherewithal of parents to teach it, and many, if not most, often don’t understand it themselves. Frankly, many parents feel more prepared to teach their kids about sex than they about money management, which leaves them feeling even more squeamish.

Second, the “hollowing out” of American corporations is moving the economy increasingly from a W2 Employer-Employee Economy to a 1099 Self-Employment Economy. As we did in the “cottage industries” of America’s pre-industrial phase, more and more of us turn to a self-employment model, whether professional, white collar, blue collar or no collar – often from a “cottage industry” home office.

That puts a greater financial management burden on the individual than the salaried person who looks at what is left in the bank account after withholding.

The core of business values in such issues often seems based on the fundamentals of “locus of control;” that is, to what extent in a meritocracy like the free society of America can people “earn their own way.”

“In personality psychology, locus of control refers to the extent to which individuals believe they can control events affecting them. Understanding of the concept was developed by Julian B. Rotter in 1954, and has since become an aspect of personality studies,” reports Wikipedia.

Someone with an internal locus is empowered with a sense that she or he can influence the important things in her or his life. Someone with an external locus does not share that sense of influence, instead feeling that “life happens” to her or him, and little exists that can be done about it.

Our objective – as it is in defensive driving instruction – should be to build the “tool kit” of the members of each succeeding generation, to empower on such issues.

The Delaware Council on Economic Education and Entrepreneurship (DCEEE) helps manage both a master’s degree program – that seems unique on a national scale – and a variety of in-class education programs like the Stock Market Game and Mini-Society in Delaware.

Founded and run out of the University of Delaware’s Alfred Lerner College of Business & Economics more than 30 years ago by professor Jim O’Neill, the program became a national model, and it was turned over in just the last couple years to professor Carlos Asarta, upon O’Neill’s retirement.

The U.S. Small Business Administration does its part on the entrepreneurship side, helping along with the state to fund Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) in most states, here associated with the University of Delaware. The National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) helps fund the Delaware Manufacturing Extension Partnership (DEMEP), run here from Delaware Technical Community College.

If public education and programs can help Delawareans become better consumers, better financial managers, and more successful entrepreneurs, the taxpayers will have gotten a heck of a return on investment for their money.

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