A hundred years ago, we already knew what our children needed to be competitive in the world, says WSJ Wealth Expert Ted Beck of the National Endowment for Financial Education.
A hundred years ago, we already knew what our children needed to be competitive in the world, says WSJ Wealth Expert Ted Beck of the National Endowment for Financial Education.

Ted Beck is president and CEO of the National Endowment for Financial Education, a member of the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans and chairman of the Jump$tart Coalition.

Our grandparents learned more in school about personal finance than our children do now. What they needed to know about the nation’s financial system was included in math class.

I’ve got three editions of “Hamilton’s Essentials of Arithmetic,” a nifty little series from 1919 that focused its lessons on “the broader fields which the child is likely to enter after leaving school–fields in which problems of taxation, insurance, investments and other business and social enterprises make a practical demand on arithmetical knowledge.”

These texts go far beyond math drills (although there are many, many pages of those, too). Fifth-graders learned that the money they would be depositing in their school savings banks “should be earned by the labor of the pupil or saved by self-denial,” and then calculated how much profit a student deposited by making jelly from “windfall apples.”

Seventh-graders learned that “people insure their lives so that their families may be provided for in case the breadwinner should die,” and then compared the cost and…