Don’t Be Fooled by Biased Financial Literacy Programs

Can I be honest? The politically right thing to say in financial literacy circles is that we need educators—from elementary to high-school level—to teach our children how to handle their money. There is a committed movement to make financial literacy part of a core curriculum. And while I totally support these efforts, I also know that money lessons often stick better if taught and reinforced at home. But the sad truth is many parents aren’t prepared or inclined to teach their children how to be good money managers. The job has fallen to educators to step in and add to their already burdensome load to help our children steer clear of the financial pitfalls that can leave them broke for decades. So, if you have to teach financial literacy, you need to find a program that eases your burden. You need a system that is devoid of the inherent bias I’ve found in so many well-meaning programs developed by financial institutions. You need a financial literacy curriculum designed with one major purpose: to teach our children to be smart consumers, skeptical of the people who want their money from retailers to payday lenders to mainstream banks. Don’t be fooled by programs with cute cartoon characters or curriculum developed with mixed messages. (There is good and bad debt? No there isn’t, there is only debt.) How can a credit lesson funded and created by a lender not be unbiased? Will they teach your children that credit is a game many can’t win? Will they really talk about the true dangers of debt? But there’s one program I’ve found that I think is a wise choice, FoolProof. The FoolProof Foundation, an organization that was created with help from the late CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite, has developed a free, web-based, turnkey financial literacy curriculum. Although the organization has received some funding from community credit unions, that involvement stops right there. The financial institutions have had absolutely no input in the development of the curriculum. The team running this nonprofit are committed consumer advocates who have the sole motive of helping students become money smart. They aren’t trying to cultivate future consumers or customers. As FoolProof’s mission states:
We teach consumer self-defense skills. We teach consumers to be skeptics when it comes to anything that touches their money or welfare.
A study by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation found that 46 percent of young adults are worried that they have amassed too much debt. Forty-three percent of millennials said they had used pawnshops and payday lenders. “It is more important than ever that college students are equipped with the knowledge, perspectives, skills and habits to successfully navigate the fiscal burdens that stand in the way of their financial independence,” a report by Higher One and EverFi said. I’m actually using FoolProof’s materials for the volunteer financial literacy program I run at my church because its values align with mine, which is to help people stay as debt-free as possible and protect themselves financially. Shawn Donnelly, a financial literacy and mathematics teacher at a public school in Brooklyn called Kingsborough Early College Secondary School, wrote:
The FoolProof online financial literacy course was a terrific resource for me and my students. It offered easy to understand teaching tips for me as instructor, and many valuable financial lessons for my high school students in an engaging and interactive format.
It has become vital that our children get the right financial information from the right source. I think FoolProof is that right and safe source. Choose your curriculum wisely because your students’ financial lives may depend on it.
Michelle Singletary is the nationally syndicated personal finance columnist for The Washington Post. Her latest book is “The 21 Day Financial Fast: Your Path to Financial Peace and Freedom.”

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