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The ABC's of Money Smarts

Michal Eisikowitz

When the government is sunk in debt, can we expect families to do better? Yes, according to rabbis and educators who are devising courses in financial literacy for the next generation of family heads, our high school students. But do such courses really help, or is the flood of consumerism and easy credit too strong to overcome?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

President Obama might like to claim otherwise, but almost every American would agree: This country is still reeling from the recession. Slugging through a recovery period described by one economic commentator as “slow, spotty, and anemic,” America finds itself today in a dreary never-never land of recovery that is eons away from the budgetary bliss that characterized the 1990s.

This sorry state ofAmerica’s piggy bank makes the recent findings in financial education all the more disturbing: After a decade of growth, the financial literacy movement in theUSis actually losing steam, with significant cutbacks on the part of schools and state governments countrywide.

While the number of schools that have made a course in economics mandatory has risen in past years, writes Dan Kadlec in Time Magazine, since 2009, “states requiring that students be tested on personal finance concepts fell by almost half.” What’s more, the Financial Literacy Research Center, a nationwide network of university-based research groups designed to set standards for workable and effective financial literacy programs, lost its funding just two years into its mission, in what one journalist said was proof that government support for financial  literacy “doesn’t go far beyond public relations.”

Yet in the midst of this downsizing, the yeshivah world seems to be going against the tide, with an increasing number of high schools, seminaries, and mesivtas incorporating personal finance courses into their programs.

Mesila, the nonprofit organization dedicated to helping Jewish families achieve and maintain financial stability, reports that since 2008, when the Mesila curriculum was first unveiled, about 100 high schools, mesivtas, and seminaries worldwide have come aboard.

“There is a wave of interest,” says Mrs. Batya Weinberg, Mesila’s educational director. “We are getting requests from every sector and stratum of Torah Judaism, from the most liberal to the most insular.”


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