Students Thinking Critically About Finance

I teach at a school that strongly emphasizes students writing constructed responses to reading materials. This strengthens their reading and writing skills and gets them thinking critically about various topics (these are big standardized testing skills too). Here are some articles and prompts I have given my Personal Financial Responsibility class to think about current topics in finance.

Financial costs and benefits of college” (Kahn Academy)

Is going to a 4-year college a good investment?

Roth vs. Traditional IRA — Which Is Better?” (The Motley Fool)

Would you use a Traditional IRA or Roth IRA to save for retirement? Why?

The Rise of the Subscription Economy” (Huffington Post)

Is the shift of the economy from purchasing goods toward purchasing services a good thing or a bad thing? How might it affect consumers and content creators?

New Lending Rules to Ban Payday Lending ‘Debt Traps’” (NPR)

Should payday loans be more heavily regulated by the government to protect consumers?

What President Trump means for your pocketbook” (USA Today)

Based on what you have read about President Elect Donald Trump’s platform, do you anticipate that your personal finances or your family’s personal finances will improve, stay the same, or get worse as a result of Trump’s presidency?

Trump Calls 20% Corporate Tax Rate in Plan a ‘Perfect Number’” (Bloomberg)

What would you tell your senators and representative in Congress to do about President Trump’s tax plan? Should they pass it, reject it, or change it?

The last two in particular are political questions. Some teachers might be hesitant to open up political discussions, but I took a risk and am grateful that I did. Since I require students to support their written arguments with evidence, the overwhelming majority of students made respectful, reasonable arguments. I actually enjoyed reading responses that took either side because the students actually thought about the problem and responded intelligently instead of spitting the usually talking points.

What I really like about these exercises is that you can learn a lot more from writing about a topic than from just reading about it and/or being quizzed on your memorization of facts. My students couldn’t make arguments about President Trump’s tax plan without understanding fundamental concepts about how income taxes work. They couldn’t make the case for a traditional or Roth IRA without understanding the difference between pre-tax and post-tax accounts.

We live in an age where the majority of political discussion seems to be through talking points and memes that oversimplify issues and try to manipulate people. It is important that people be able to dig into details from good sources and respond with their own thoughts about what they find. Imagine how much more our society could accomplish if everybody put that much critical thinking into politics.

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