Financial Literacy and Teaching Economics

The liberal man is the man who knows how to give the right amount of money to the right person in the right way at the right time. – Aristotle 

Financial Literacy
Convened to discuss what caused the global financial crisis, and to ask how things might be done differently going forwards, the May 2013 conference on the future of finance at Saïd Business School, Oxford University, England, concluded with a session on financial literacy for young people. The presenters’ argument was that financial literacy needs to begin at an early age, so that today’s widespread ignorance and unconsciousness about money and finance can be overcome.

Indeed, financial literacy is now becoming part of secondary school curricula. But what basic idea of money is being taught? If money is presented – even subliminally – as something unto itself, something to be preserved at all costs and to reign supreme over the ‘real’ economy, what change will there be, other than increased skill at ‘working the system’, but now on the part of ever-younger generations?

Financial literacy in an associative sense gives to money a clear context. Rather than treating it as a commodity within the economy, associative economics sees money as a reflector of economic life. The main thing it reflects (or should reflect) is true pricing. For this, in turn, money needs to be differentiated so that its three functions are ‘upgraded’ to be three kinds: purchase, loan and gift. It will then be seen that money is a modern form of accounting; indeed it is the world’s mobile bookkeeping system.

This, in essence, is the story that those who teach about money need to impart to their students – both secondary and tertiary. This has the potential to transform the global financial crisis into global financial awareness.

Worldwide Teaching Project
An important aspect of the work of the Economics Conference concerns the what, why, when and how of the teaching of economics in general and associative economics in particular. In 2005, a worldwide project was initiated in order to bring together those who teach economics in secondary schools (initially in Waldorf schools). The idea was to provide tea and biscuits and to host meetings in which those concerned could discuss the teaching of economics in general and associative economics in particular. An initial meeting was held in July 2005 in London, since when various gatherings and discussions have been held around the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, England, and Argentina, with a view to developing a more coherent programme in secondary schools, both Waldorf and non-Waldorf. In February, May and October of 2014, for example, a series of workshops was held at the Mannheim Waldorf Seminar in Germany, and since 2013 the Annula Meeting of the Economocs Conference has had financial literacy as a sub-theme.

In these workshops an important discussion has arisen concerning the role of financial literacy in a wider economics curriculum, as also when, how and what one teaches at different ages (from 12 to 18).

Annual Gathering
At the 2013 meeting of the Economics Conference in Montreal, Canada, a one-day discussion was held in order to quicken this work and make it a regular part of the annual gathering. A one-day meeting was then held on 26 June 2014 and repeated on 24 June 2015, both times in Montreal. In 2016 this aspect became threaded throughout the meeting.

In parallel, Christopher Houghton Budd has become active in academic and professional financial contexts, producing material on financial literacy based on the threefold nature of accounting as part of the CRESSI project, based in the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Saïd Business School, Oxford University, England, and in the chapter 'In the shoes of Luca Pacioli' in Springer's International Handbook on Financial Literacy.

Participation is open to anyone involved in the teaching of economics, whether as teachers, administrators or those responsible for educational governance. The idea is that all concerned develop a shared sense of the way economics is being taught, in order, hopefully, to ensure coherence with their own activities. For what is the effect – and indeed the point – of teaching one paradigm if, in the day-to-day running of a school, another one is operating?

Anyone interested in contributing to this project should send an email to economicsnoSpam@goetheanum.org with ‘Financial Literacy’ as the subject.