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As I See It

I have journeyed back into the classroom.

While I am a firm believer in lifelong learning, this time around I’m on the other side of the desk — chalk in hand — trying to help a class of high school seniors gain a better understanding of how the economy works in the real world.

This is the fourth time in the past few years that I’ve participated in Junior Achievement of Mississippi’s volunteer program, which sends business professionals into schools to teach and mentor, and I’ll be spending some time with a 12th-grade economics class at Murrah High School in Jackson this fall.

As many of you know, I am an unabashed, enthusiastic supporter of Junior Achievement (JA) because I have seen the positive impact that its volunteers’ efforts can have on the lives of young people.

Volunteers go into the classroom and help the teacher make the textbook material come alive by sharing life experiences from the business world. Usually, the commitment is about one hour of classroom time and an equal amount of prep time each week. Not really that much “giving up” in exchange for the tremendously satisfying feeling of “giving back.”

What can those of us in the business world share with high school students that would be of interest to them? In short, everything. Many of these youngsters have not been exposed to people who are in business and, thus, have little understanding of what a career in business entails. And, more importantly, how one goes about getting into the business scene.

I’m talking about real basic stuff. Kids are not born knowing that spending more than you make leads to financial failure. Pretty elementary, however, a cursory review of the bankruptcy statistics proves that lot’s of people reach adulthood without understanding this principle.

Those in the field of advertising have successfully created insatiable demand for “stuff.” As successful as this creation of demand has been for business, it has also bred a sense of entitlement that is unhealthy. The principle of delayed gratification is buried beneath the bombardment of ads implying you can have it all and you are entitled to it right now. I don’t mean this as a criticism of the advertising industry, which we depend on for our bread and butter, but rather to draw attention to the need for a counterbalancing force to teach people that choices have results. Into this breach steps Junior Achievement.

Others are also contributing to financial literacy in meaningful and important ways. The Jumpstart Coalition is actively, and effectively, promoting financial education by distributing free manuals for teachers and workbooks for students and also training the teachers. Their mission is to improve the personal financial literacy of Mississippians and they are making a positive difference in our state. I have read some of their material and it is excellent.

No discussion of improving financial education would be complete without mention of the Mississippi Council for Economic Education (MCEE) which re-opened last year and is off to a roaring start. Through the efforts of some the state’s most influential leaders, the MCEE has now established affiliation with Mississippi State University and plans to establish similar affiliations with Jackson State University and the University of Southern Mississippi. This group is dedicated to teaching Mississippi’s teachers how to better teach economics in the classroom. As a member of the National Council for Economic Education, they have access to the resources of a national organization with many years of experience in the area of improving economic education. We’re expecting great things from the MCEE and don’t expect to be disappointed.

Why is this discussion of economic education in Mississippi relevant to the business community? We’re all in this together and improving the financial literacy of our young people helps the entire business community, and our society as a whole. These organizations need our support — both financial and time. The feeling of having made things a little better for our state is satisfying beyond my ability to express.

Don’t hesitate to get involved with any of these groups. Junior Achievement classes are forming and more volunteers are needed.

Jumpstart and the MCEE can use all the help we can give them. Money is in short supply and these groups depend on the generosity of the community to pursue their mission. Give money when they come calling.

Give time when volunteers are needed. I promise you’ll get a lot of satisfaction out of the experience of giving.

Interested in helping? A few good places to start include:

• Junior Achievement — http://Mississippi.ja.org

• Jumpstart Coalition — www.jumpstart.org

• Mississippi Council on Economic Education — Wendy Tucker (601) 961-4408

One of the basic truths of life I have learned over 55 years of living is that giving gets more than getting gives. If all of us would adopt a worthwhile organization and support them with money and time the mountains would shake.

Thought for the Moment — The problem in my life and other people’s lives is not the absence of knowing what to do, but the absence of doing it. — management guru Peter F. Drucker

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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