When I was looking at colleges, I didn’t know if I wanted to be a complete business student or to explore the arts and sciences, but I did know that I wanted to apply to Boston College. When the time came to apply to schools, I had to decide between applying to the Carroll School of Management or the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences. I sat down and gave it some thought. BC’s business school is one of the best in the country, and I was interested in working in the field. Yet, on the other hand, I wasn’t sure if I could actually get into CSOM. I had heard that it was more competitive, and part of me wasn’t willing to take the risk of not getting into BC at all.
Eventually, I applied to MCAS. I decided to major in economics and political science, two subjects that I loved and that were somewhat business-oriented. Once I stepped onto campus as an MCAS student, I took part in the subtle roasting of CSOM. I joked about CSOM “bros,” the homogenous culture, and the pretentious attitude that seems to walk hand in hand with management and finance. Most of the time, all of this is a joke, but on a larger scale, there is an active dislike for those in finance. Politicians score points for degrading those in the Wall Street class. While some may believe that this class sits on a pedestal of pretentiousness and unemotionally oppresses the poor, we can’t let that view take us away from finance.
Any field can be pretentious or looked down upon, whether it’s political, musical, theatrical, or business-oriented. These seemingly pretentious fields aren’t actually all that obnoxious, but certain members of each field perpetuate stereotypes that cause them to appear that way. It’s not the fault of the field itself, it’s the fault of the select few that represent the discipline. I can understand why people write off finance because of its bad reputation. Wall Street, and the stock market in and of itself, can be jealous, manipulative, and selfish. The solution to this attitude, however, is not to ignore or disregard Wall Street, which can actually hurt a society more than help it. Like it or not, buying and selling stocks, loaning funds, paying interest rates, etc … help an economy to flourish.
Finance is not like other fields. Even without theatre, literature, or music—three fields that can sometimes be flagged as pretentious—I can live at a high standard. Yes, I might miss out on amazing plays, fascinating books, and life-changing instrumental pieces. Those artistic pursuits I will live without, but that doesn’t stop me from paying my mortgage, buying groceries, or saving for retirement. I can live comfortably while not knowing the intricacies of Shakespeare. I can’t say the same for not understanding a 401k or basic investment.
On the other hand, if I ignore finance, and fall in love with literature and become a successful teacher or author, that doesn’t mean finance will no longer be part of my life. In the modern world, very few of us can retreat to wooded cabins like Henry David Thoreau did and ponder the nature of life. We have things to do. Though we can live our passions and love our fields, we still need to understand how to become involved in finance.
By teaching and learning the basics of finance in school, the field can become less pretentious, and those businesspeople who take advantage of others will lose their leverage, because the financial playing ground will be leveled. When the average member of the economy understands the basics of the financial markets, both that member, as well as the economy as a whole, benefit. The more inclusive an economy is, the more assets it taps into. The market depends on participation, and when we walk away from the financial sector, it’s not an act of righteousness, but a misunderstanding, and a harmful one at that.
Certain financial crises in history could have been avoided if the majority of the public had a basic understanding of finance. During the 2008 worldwide recession, a grasp of how a market crash can become a self-fulfilling prophecy or a perception of market bubbles could’ve prevented the masses from taking a financial hit, and might’ve prevented a select few from taking advantage of the situation.
I would recommend that individual states ensure that financial instruction becomes a required part of public and private education. Individual municipalities can then identify the classes that they can replace with financial education. This replacement is going to anger people, especially because schools would likely have to take away from artistic programs because they are often seen as the most expendable. There are ways, however, to preserve these programs while initiating fiscal education by adding financial literacy courses and changing the way specific classes are taught.
In math classes, teachers could spend less time on working on the memorization of say, the quadratic formula, and instead help students understand how a tax bracket works, or how to understand the significance between a million and a billion, or a billion and a trillion. Society often groups these numbers together, but there exists a massive chasm in value, and by teaching that difference, students can better understand the national budget and debt. For another discipline, social studies, teachers should put an emphasis on the different governmental institutions that interact with society daily instead of, say, the significance of ancient pottery. Even if artistic programs have to take an initial hit, if we understand finance, we can better fund the arts and support artists in the long run, helping the economy and providing support for intellectual and imaginative pursuits.
Featured Image by Meg Dolan / Heights Editor