Economic meltdown 101

Some are worried about paying for college. Others are stressed about their parents' jobs and 401(k)s and about how the rising tide of foreclosures could affect families and neighbors.

Others haven't learned how to balance a checkbook, much less how to save for retirement.

The down economy is hitting home for high-schoolers, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools teachers said over coffee and donuts Monday at Central Piedmont Community College's Harris campus.

Nearly 60 teachers came to the Financial & Economic Crisis 2008 Forum to learn about the economy from experts from the Federal Reserve, the Charlotte Chamber and local colleges and universities. It was sponsored by CMS career and technical education, CPCC and educators at Olympic High.

The recurring theme of the talks: Financial education is crucial, and students need more of it in school.

“In our society, we have met this really huge teaching moment, and financial and economic literacy is at a very low level,” said Michael Realon, career development coordinator at Olympic, who organized the event. “We want to be able to teach students and help them understand the importance of financial literacy.”

The discussion Monday started with thoughts from the experts on what's behind the current crisis, particularly a push in the 1990s for homeownership and subprime mortgage lending and wave of foreclosures that followed.

“Housing got us into this,” said Matt Martin, an economist with the Federal Reserve in Charlotte, “and if we're going to get out of it, we need to see some stability in the housing market.”

There was the familiar gloom and doom. One expert told the crowd, “This is not the last financial crisis, and this is probably not the deepest.”

Another said it could take a year or two for things to turn around. A third – in a presentation titled “The American Dream…or Nightmare?” – declared that apathy, greed and ignorance led to the current crisis.

But Tony Crumbley of the chamber found at least one positive: Charlotte is better off than many other cities, he said, with continued job growth and a high quality of life.

“By and large, you are in the best place you could be in this economy in the country right now,” he said.

The panelists agreed financial literacy is essential and asked the educators in the crowd how best to implement those lessons.

“Starting sooner,” one man said. Another teacher said every high-schooler should have to pass a “real-life class” that includes lessons on personal finance.

Nancy Cowan, who works in career and technical education for the CMS central office, encouraged the experts to bring teachers' ideas to the attention of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction in Raleigh . Afterward, she said financial literacy is important because CMS students are concerned about the economy.

“This has hurt them,” she said.

Cowan hopes for more educational events for teachers. She had already asked one of Monday's presenters, Debra Sherrill of CPCC, to speak to a group of marketing teachers about the topic, she said.

Sylvia Monroe, a business teacher at Olympic, said she came to the forum to supplement what she's learned from the newspapers.

“Our kids are coming out of school and need to know,” she said. “It's their future, as well as ours.”

As the session ended Monday, organizers encouraged teachers to keep talking about economic issues with their students. For many, the finance lessons they learn in school will be the only ones they get.

“You are what the students see every day,” said Matt Hayes, principal of Olympic's global studies and economics school. “You are that driving force, day in and day out, to keep them on that right path.”