You know those memes on the internet where people talk about how their teachers never taught them X, Y, or Z? A lot of them are false, but some correctly point out gaps in the curriculum. At the top of that list is taxes. Personal finance, in general, is not touched on nearly enough in schools, but that is especially true for taxes. For as big of a role as they play in the lives of every adult, they really aren’t discussed all that much in schools. That is a problem. This time of the year, “tax-season” is the perfect time to solve that problem.
Taxes are talked about in school. Most students are aware of the concept. The problem is they are not explicitly taught like other areas. Even when we do teach about taxes, it is generally in a secondary manner. For example, a math teacher will make students calculate sales-tax in word problems. We rarely teach about taxes in conjunction with personal finance which is the way it really matters. The results of this gap are evident. To most students tax season is the time of the year where they get new shoes because their parents received a nice tax return. However, they don’t know why they got a tax-return or even what a tax-return is.
What we should be doing around this time is giving students at bats with calculating income taxes. There are a number of ways to do this. Use word problems. Have them complete a table with different tax rates. My personal favorite is the career project.
- Have students pick the career of their choice. It is okay if they pick something unrealistic like NBA player. (It might even be better for this particular project.)
- Have them research the average salary or pay for that career per year.
- Have them cross reference that with a SIMPLIFIED version of our tax-bracket to calculate how much they owe in taxes.
- For an extension activity have them calculate how much they need to pay per pay period to owe exactly $0.
- For extra fun make it a cross-discipline project with the social studies teacher and have students debate and vote on what their tax-dollars should be spent on.
The criticism that schools send students into the real world without knowing how taxes work is a perfectly legitimate one. I went to a fairly good school and that didn’t stop me from being shocked when I saw my first paycheck. That is unfortunately a common experience, and that doesn’t have to be the case. We are all aware that there is a finite amount of time in school, and we can’t necessarily teach everything, but we need to teach this.