What High School Could Learn From Dave Ramsey


“The thing I have discovered about working with personal finance is that the good news is that it is not rocket science. Personal finance is about 80 percent behavior. It is only about 20 percent head knowledge.” ~Dave Ramsey


I love Dave Ramsey, his show, and his book The Total Money Makeover. I love the consistency in his message; I love his folksy “The same advice your grandmother gave, except I keep my teeth in”; but I especially love it when Dave Ramsey goes bare knuckles with “normal”. He’s made a career out of trying to convince people that they don’t need debt…credit card, student loans, any of it…to be successful…and, in fact, you can’t be successful with money if you have debt. Rich people don’t get rich with credit card miles. Or, a direct quote: “Normal is broke. Be weird.”

What Dave Ramsey says consistently about personal finance is true about all learning. It is only 20 percent (or less) content and skill. It is 80 percent behavior, emotion, will, purpose, discipline, self-direction, and so on. This is as true for learning your colors as it is for learning to calculate the cubic footage of the universe – you don’t approach the daunting task of learning something worth learning as if you were a robot. You have to have your heart and soul in it. You have to have “gazelle intensity.”  The problem with what’s normal in most schools, public and private, is that they approach learning in the reverse – as 80 percent or more head knowledge, and 20 percent or less emotion. There are classroom stations where you are told what bits of things to learn for 40 minutes or so until you’re buzzed to another station to learn bits of things that other people have decided are important for you to learn. You have no stake in it except the stake we have manufactured – either a grade or a teacher’s approval – and so you never really learn anything except enough to pass my test and win my love. And college professors wonder why kids don’t know how to write – it’s because there was never any purpose or point to anything done in High School – at least no individual, internal, self-generated purpose or point. It’s all externally motivated and terminable at the point the grade is stamped on the report card.

Somewhere deep in the bowels of whatever hell the common core was forged, somebody understood that. It’s evident in the NYSUT rubric for teacher evaluations. Teachers who are “Highly Effective” have students who take initiative and control of their own learning. They self-direct. If students can articulate how they will be scored, what the standards and objectives are, if they can formulate questions that teachers can use in future lesson plans, and initiate collaborative, problem solving opportunities that facilitate whole-class conversations, then that teacher is “Highly Effective.” This in the context of compulsory schooling, compulsory class requirements, rigid curricula, and a completely inflexible class schedule. So, in other words, we the central planners will decide what it is you the student should learn, how it is you should learn it, how long you will spend on it, what tasks you will complete, who you will do that work with, and what alpha-numeric score you ought to receive, meanwhile, you the student ought to be so excited for this opportunity that you should work hard to predict my curricular and pedagogical vision and do your best to take initiative to mirror it. That’s personal passion? No, it’s called “normal”, and it’s as broken as our attitudes towards debt.

Aptitude plays a part. Dave Ramsey says that the majority of us can find financial peace. That’s because the head knowledge involved is often not much more than adding and subtracting. But we can’t all be good at everything. Maybe Stephen King would never have been a decent tuna fisherman no matter how many hours at sea, and Michael Jordan would have only gone so far as a jockey. They both turned out alright because they did what they loved and they did it all the time. It helped that they both had a knack for it. When you force kids into classes against their will then the ones who hit the school lottery and have aptitudes in the classes we force them into get the idea that they are “smart”. Those who have aptitudes in things other than what we force them in, or have aptitudes that develop at times other than the school time-line, get the idea they are “stupid” or, maybe worse, “average.” At least if you think you’re dumb, you avoid school and go find the thing you’re good at and nail it. If you think you’re average then you just accept mediocrity in everything forever.

Another Dave Ramsey quote High School can learn from: “We’ve really got to stop looking to Washington to fix our problems. It obviously doesn’t have the ability to do that. People who are successful are not successful because of the president.” We have to stop looking at our teachers as the people who fix (or educate) our children. We teachers don’t have the ability because the only one who can fix or educate you is you. The best we can do is support you in what you want to do, and to be a resource when needed. Stop obsessing over content. Nobody ever said, “I’m where I am today because my history teacher taught Hammurabi’s code so well!” Has anyone ever contributed a teacher’s content knowledge with their future success? Ever in the history of man? I’ve never heard of a single case, and if there is one it was never the content knowledge alone, or even as a primary function of the future success. I bet everything that there was some behavioral and emotional guidance (except Dave Ramsey says that gambling is a tax on stupid people, so take this as a figurative bet).

It’s time for school to get weird. Get rid of curriculum. When a school or a government decides on a curriculum they decide on what’s best for other people, and nobody knows what’s best for you but you. Get rid of grades. Learning can be observed but it can never be quantified, least of all by another person’s arbitrary use of a “67” or an “82.” Get rid of class schedules. If a kid is working hard on something they are passionate about, don’t stop them to make them do something you think they should do. Eliminate compulsion. How valuable is a system that requires laws to make us attend? Remember that public schools are meant to serve the needs of the community…the community was never meant to bow to the dictates of the public schools.

Let’s get weird.


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