Less than two percent of Alabama’s teachers are trained in the art of educating students about economic responsibility. This country is currently licking its wounds after being trounced by the hardest economic collapse since The Great Depression. Banks failed, the auto industry imploded, and record numbers of Americans are out of work. Due to a lack of financial understanding, many Americans are losing houses they couldn’t afford to buy. We don’t teach our children about the importance of money and the intricacies of how the economy works. We never really have.
While the country looks for a solution to the problem, the hard truth looks back through lenses of impossibly cold reason. There is no definitive solution. There is no one plan that will dig us out of the hole we are in. No singular action enacted by the government can pull us out of the ocean of red. The only way to change this abysmal situation begins in the classroom, by putting more emphasis on economic education than we ever have. We have to teach the next generation about the importance of economic literacy if they are expected to do any better than we have.
America’s teachers get ideas for the classroom from a variety of places. The Internet has changed everything about how teachers get information and what they do with it. Teacher’s forums, blogs and educational websites have revolutionized how teachers formulate lesson plans. The ACEE uses teachers’ conferences to open doors to teachers who need help in the sometimes complex area of economics. One of the primary goals of the ACEE is as simple as getting material into the hands of teachers. This may sound like an easy task. It is not. Many teachers cannot afford even to drive to a teachers conference, much less pay for the conference out of pocket.
Teachers have tricks for getting kids to understand long division. They have figured out why some kids run into barriers when trying to read or write. Educators have been handing down these kinds of tricks to new teachers since the inception of the classroom. There is a sense of pride in handing down this knowledge from one educator to another. Understanding a topic and then conveying that topic to an audience who is expected to absorb it efficiently isn’t something anybody can do. This is why we have teachers in the first place.
Plenty of important life lessons start at home, but many more are learned in the classroom. We trust teachers to know how to get kids to learn. When our kids come home after being introduced to the alphabet we take it for granted. When children begin the task of writing in cursive, we remember being taught that and share their excitement. We need our teachers because we have jobs and don’t have time to teach our kids everything that they will need to know to perform in society.
Translating ideas so that someone who operates at a different level emotionally and physically can understand them is a challenge unparalleled. Algebra is not living room material. Having the skill to get students to understand algebra is a trade just like welding or carpentry. It is not common knowledge and it takes an expert at teaching, not just algebra, to communicate it to an audience effectively. Some mathematicians who are certified geniuses can’t tell a lay person how or why some formulas work. That takes a teacher. It takes a teacher to identify when students are not moving at the pace they should be. It takes a teacher to repeat the same point over and over using different examples until students finally get it. It takes a teacher to put their foot down when the kid in the back just won’t stop talking. It is not as easy as it might seem.
While teachers have enough on their plate, they always have to consider the fact that teaching costs money. And that money is becoming alarmingly scarce. Education is often one of the first areas to lose funding. Every year teachers see less money and have to pay for more for their classroom out of pocket. The idea of free materials in an underdeveloped area of teaching is a huge opportunity. The ACEE has been helping teachers for over 40 years by supplying classroom materials and holding events and competitions to get kids involved in economic literacy. The real selling point of the ACEE is that the materials offered in the classroom and some of the workshops are free. Teachers can attend any number of various workshops where they can learn the finer points of teaching economics. The workshops have been indispensible for hundreds of teachers across the state. There are registration fees for the workshops but they are designed to be affordable for teachers.
What today’s teachers need is a free resource where they can get materials to help them get the message across in the classroom. This is not always an easy task. Getting students to absorb anything is a challenge, much less something as seemingly dull as money matters. The good news is that they have that resource, although they may not know it. The Alabama Council on Economic Education offers Alabama’s teachers classroom materials that help in this specialized area at little or no cost.
Programs like The Stock Market Game let students compete in developing a hypothetical portfolio worth $100,000. Students do research on companies they would like to invest in and keep track of current events concerning their companies. Teamwork, cooperation, and research come naturally to kids in this exciting game where competition with other schools is a driving force. The Stock Market Game has seen success like no one could have predicted. Countless teachers have seen unruly classes come together to act as a team in the competition.
Color the Concepts is a program in which elementary schools students learn an economic concept and then illustrate the concept using imagination and creativity. What started as a classroom activity has spread to incorporate more than one class. Many teachers have enlisted the help of art teachers in the school to help kids get their ideas onto paper. Winning entries get their artwork published in the ACEE newsletter, on the ACEE website and in their area newspaper. The lesson plans needed for Color the Concepts are completely free.
The Alabama Economics Challenge puts student teams of four head-to-head in written tests on economics. The winners proceed to semi-final and final rounds, followed by a quiz bowl to determine the champions. Winners of the competition receive a prize of $25 and free classroom materials.
If we are to move forward to an economic solution, the programs the ACEE offers need to be in the classroom from beginning to end. Economic literacy has to have more attention and funding. Economics should be as important as every other classroom subject. Students simply must have a better understanding of money and the power it has if progress is to be made. Economic literacy is just as important as any other subject that students encounter in school. As a country we need to educate our children early and often about the importance of the economy.