Imagine standing in front of a classroom with a stack of Monopoly money. In this scenario, your goal is for the children to learn to manage money like an adult should. There are two questions that should be addressed. Is this the best thing you could be doing with the children? What could possibly go wrong with this situation?
To answer the first question, we must review our values and the purpose we expect school to serve. If our values include individualism and materialism, and the goal of our society is to be richer than other nations, teaching children how to effectively manage money is the best use of their time in school. On the other hand, if we value community and sharing, there are many better ways children can spend their time while at school.
More than one American study has found that the best predictor of a child’s success in school is their socio-economic background. Those are the children who probably already receive some financial education at home. If financial education were inserted into the classroom, it would probably have the result of further stratifying the students. Even if the students from poor families gained financial skills in a way that they otherwise couldn’t, it would underline the existing distance between them and students who are well off, with the potential of widening that gap.
There are many things that could go wrong in the scenario outlined above. The relationship between teacher and students is already characterised by an imbalance of power. The student is subject to the teacher’s judgment in the areas of discipline and grades. These punishments and rewards add stress to the child’s school experience. If we add money as another possible way to manipulate students, it could become a source of stress in the classroom.
Finally, what message do we send students when we use money (even play money) in the classroom as a motivator? It says to students that what they’re doing is not valuable for its own sake, but we must pay them to attend class, pay them to do their work and pay them to learn. That cheapens the whole classroom experience. The same is true of giving children a grade for managing their money. It says that money management is something you do because you were told to or because you will be evaluated; it’s not valuable for its own sake.
We cannot afford to let money matters ruin children’s school experience. If families are not teaching their children how to handle money, our society must accept that situation. We should ensure that our financial institutions and our businesses are not allowed to take advantage of the people who are most vulnerable. We should ensure that as much information as possible is available for interested people to educate themselves. But we need to work with people who are already motivated, rather than trying to compel young people who already have enough struggles at school.