I am fully aware of how boring this topic likely is to everyone who is emotionally capable of feeling joy (Ted Bundy, if you are a reader… you’re welcome). Yet onward I write. Excel or any spreadsheet program really, is an enormously pliable and useful tool for anyone, not just desk jockeys like me. Knowing how to use a spreadsheet program competently will facilitate a multitude of activities, just like being literate or knowing math (so Jessica Simpson is excused from this one). I’m serious; I think being competent in spreadsheets is that important. That’s why it should be taught to high school students.
Training us to be Systematic and Logical
Beyond helping people create and balance budgets, figure out complicated math-based problems, share information and generally just be productive in the areas of life American’s pretend doesn’t exist, the actual act of creating a spreadsheet trains our brains to think logically, in steps, and to consider how variables interact with one another to create a final conclusion or product. The end result is a person who can break problems down into their parts quickly and productively, and derive conclusions. In short a person who is more employable and analytical than average. Isn’t this what you would want your teenager to be?
What I am Proposing
I am not proposing an entire year long course or even semester long course on spreadsheets. I am proposing it be implemented into the curriculum as a mandatory class every student must take in order to graduate; a non-grade, pass fail class that perhaps encompasses no more than a handful of lessons. The focus would be on basic formulas, spreadsheet design, and linkage with other programs (like Word or PowerPoint). Perhaps this could be combined with another mandatory class I think should be part of every high school curriculum: personal finance.
A Little Background…
I have a little history here to share: I graduated high school not knowing the first thing about spreadsheets and on the rare occasion I clicked on the wrong icon on my computer’s desktop revealing a seemingly endless canvas of tiny boxes I hadn’t a clue what to do as my anxiety grew exponentially like this sentence has. I also don’t remember having to use spreadsheets at all in college, and for the one project that required it I paid a kid to come over to my dorm and make one for me, with my input of course. That is ridiculous. How is it possible for my peers and me to be business majors and never have to use or learn spreadsheets? That is the definition of text book learning, a signal we should all listen to.
I learned spreadsheets because I lied on my resume in a job interview for an internship in San Diego, saying I was “proficient”. I was as proficient at spreadsheets as Casey Anthony is at babysitting. Somehow I was offered the job. I went out and purchased ‘Excel for Dummy’s’, and went about learning the basics. Repeat this process for the two months between hiring and start date for my first finance job, three years later. If this all strikes you as a little odd it’s because it should. It shouldn’t strike you as completely uncommon; most people learn spreadsheets on the job. So then, wouldn’t knowing how to create and utilize them prior to accepting a job be a boon to any young candidate?
As Always, It’s on You, Parents
It’s unlikely that high schools across the country and even colleges are going to suddenly realize the antiquity of their educational offerings and begin teaching spreadsheets (which can be involved in essentially any class and subject, if the teacher wishes). So it falls upon the parents to teach their children spreadsheets and in the process teach them the enormously advantageous systematic and analytical thinking that comes with it. If you’re a parent and are as in the dark as your children are, learn together somehow. In this case it will be helpful to everyone (look at adult education courses offered in your area).
Throughout this site there are several exercises which require a spreadsheet program if done on a computer, and I hope that for those of you who are strangers to these programs will use them as an opportunity to not only increase your personal financial knowledge and well being, but to become adequate at spreadsheets as well. The two go hand in hand.
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