Ant Versus Grasshopper


Residents in Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley are high achievers on several fronts, including academic advancement and high earning power. It starts at an early age. Kiddos learn their A-B-C’s and 1, 2, 3’s. Some move on to Do-Re-Mi. Athletes learn X’s and O’s for TD’s and PAT’s. Some become PhDs.

High achievement sometimes revolves around education merging with opportunity. Back-to-the-Basics supporters emphasize Reading, ’riting, and ’rithmetic, meaning core content and subjects. More modern education has evolved to three newer R’s – Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships. With Rigor, teachers get to know their students as learners, and in doing so, instruction is tailored to meet their respective needs. Understanding the ‘Why’ behind learning aligns with Relevance. As students understand the connections between the subject matter they’re learning and practical applications, they become motivated to learn even more. Relationships boil down to a sense of connection between teachers and students. The class clown, however, may seek a couple Recess sessions to go with Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships for even greater balance.

What about Financial Literacy? Do valley residents, students, and wage earners overachieve with this discipline? Financial literacy may seem like a Greek language. If so, it’s pronounced along the lines, fa-nan(t)-shel li-t(a-)ra se. If it’s still Greek, the School of Hard Knocks Dictionary explains it as the ability to understand and effectively use various financial skills, including personal financial management, budgeting, and investing.

Why the worry and hand wringing? An uncertain economy is impacting how Americans are able to save for emergencies. Less is available for higher and higher expenses. About a year ago, 49 percent of Americans said they were ill-equipped to cover a $400 emergency expense, according to a YouGov survey for the Economic Security Project. In a February 2023 Bankrate survey, 49 percent of U.S. adults had fewer savings compared to a year ago and ten percent had no savings. The same Bankrate survey indicated 25 percent of people would use a credit card for an unexpected $1,000 expense and pay it off over time. It’s the largest percentage relying on a credit card option in the history of Bankrate’s survey since 2014. On the brighter side, 43 percent of survey respondents said they’d pay the $1,000 emergency expense from savings.

An old timer named Aesop has a favorite fable that involves resourceful ants storing food ahead of winter and a grasshopper that spent the summer singing and dancing. When winter arrived, the grasshopper was in need of food and the ants had a stockpile. The moral: Work today for what you’ll need tomorrow.

While public schools in Wisconsin provide or require a financial literacy course, it’s not mandatory. Assembly Bill 109 has been introduced in Madison. If enacted, high school students must earn a half-credit on personal financial literacy in order to graduate. A half-credit is a good start but it’s the tip of the iceberg.

In many schools, volunteer-led Junior Achievement (JA) programs help connect students to basic economic principles, including work readiness, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy. JA says its alums are more likely to have a college degree, feel confident managing money, have career success, and have started a business as an adult.

Today’s K-12 students are challenged mightily to learn financial discipline. Be an ant and not a grasshopper. Once they get it, they get it, as high achievers often do. Sometimes it takes a self-made business owner, civic leader, mayor, banker or retired grandparent to answer the call as a JA mentor/volunteer. It’s something to consider for the next school year. Chances are, JA is a learning experience for both volunteers and students. Who’s in?