My 17 year old son goes to a pretty good high school, and for the most part, I have not interfered with the more nefarious activities so far as curriculum goes. It hasn’t been that easy: a few years back I informed my son’s 6th grade math teacher that he was a “total disgrace” based on the math my son was doing in his class, but other than that, I’ve tried to offer honey whenever I could. NYC public school teachers are a resistant lot (I think it’s written into their contracts) and now that both my kids are pretty much finished with the public school system, I have fewer dogs in the fight. I have many bones to pick with the educational-industrial complex, but I try to keep my kids out of the fray.
But this doesn’t stop me from calling out some of the more sacred cows in education, and in this post, I’m going to take aim at something called The Stock Market Game. I have no doubt that the people who invented and run these kinds of investigations have good intentions, but if you know anything about how the stock market works, you would understand that teaching children about finances by investing in the stock market is like teaching sex education by watching pornography.
Yes, you read that correctly.
While the details of each version of the stock market game are different, the concept is essentially the same: individuals or groups of students are given a cash stake that only an heir to a successful real estate mogul would have access to, invest the money in a portfolio of stocks, and then follow how their “investment” grows or shrinks during the ensuing weeks or months.
Let’s begin with some facts: 22% of all children in the United States live in poverty. It is almost certain that their parents have not and will not ever have any involvement in the stock market, and since most people end up owning stocks through inheritance, the chances that these children will go on to own stocks is pretty small. For many children, playing the stock market game will end up teaching children about an aspect of our economic system that they will never be able to participate in.
Similarly, pornography promotes the same misunderstanding of human sexuality. It presumes that everyone is well endowed (both men and women) and therefore they can engage in this kind of activity. The chances that anybody will engage in sexual behavior of this type if pure fantasy. At best, viewers of pornography should understand that these highly sculpted bodies are not “real,” just as students engage in the stock market game understand it is far, far different from the reality of investing in stocks.
Second, the stock market game promotes all the wrong behaviors when it comes to personal finance. In the game, students are encouraged to invest a huge amount of money all at once, and then buy and sell without the consequences of paying fees or taxes. This promotes “short term” investment behaviors, which time and time again has been shown to be a losing strategy. As any successful investor knows, the optimal way to invest is through slow accumulation, continual reinvestment and holding stocks for the long term.
Similarly, pornography promotes the same kinds of behaviors when it comes to human relationships. The selling point of pornography is to de-emphasize long term intimacy and promote short term gains. In a pornographic film, “success” is defined by obtaining satisfaction from short term encounters, without the consequences of alienation, not to mention the risk of sexually transmitted diseases.
Finally, playing the stock market game gives a completely inaccurate representation of the career opportunities in the financial industry. Anybody who works in investing and finance knows that most stock picking is not done by individual investors, but by highly complex computer algorithms that make decisions and carry out these decisions in a billionth of a second. This kind of behavior leads companies to cheat their investors as well as their customers, all in the interest of supporting their stock prices.
Pornography suffers from exactly the same delusion when applied to sexuality. It proposes that anybody could engage in this kind of life of hedonism, without suffering from any of its consequences. The reality is that pornographic films are highly scripted, the actors are most likely exhausted and poorly paid, and becoming a highly paid “star” is very, very rare. While most viewers probably know that pornography is staged, the reality of working in the adult film industry may not be apparent to everyone.
Okay, so I’m not a fan of the stock market game; am I suggesting that we toss out the whole idea of economic education in schools? No way! In fact, my daughter took a “personal finance” class during her senior year in school and instead of wasting their time on the stock market game, they actually learned about how to manage the money that they may actually have. This included things like learning about bank fees, tax rates, investing for retirement, credit card interest rates and understanding compound interest and mortgages. That would be a financial education that would be a bazillion times more effective than playing the stock market game.
Unless, of course, we begin to believe our students should be making adult films?