Financial Literacy, is it for Everyone? a Reader Response by Krista Hembruff for EDU 5101 Perspectives in Education

Financial Literacy, is it for Everyone? a Reader Response by Krista Hembruff  for EDU 5101 Perspectives in Education

Financial Literacy, is it for Everyone?

Many of us are not comfortable making financial decisions. Some of us often feel that we do not have the proper knowledge or skills to make informed choices. Such uneasiness may be a result of the way we are treated due to our gender or socio-economic status rather than financial knowledge. There has been a push within Ontario to incorporate financial literacy education within the school curriculum. However, the current financial literacy resources available to teachers reproduce, as Pinto & Coulson (2011) make clear, the misconception that “all individuals come to a financial life on an equal playing field” (p. 56). And yet, this is not always the case. In reviewing current financial literacy education discourse, Pinto & Coulson (2011) argue, that current resources fail to acknowledge issues of gender and social justice, and instead work to promote inequity through their use of choice and neutrality discourses. In response, they call for a critical examination of current financial literacy from a social justice lens.

Curriculum is not a neutral construct. Rather, people who are often in positions of power create such educational policies. In turn, it can work to reproduce “existing social privilege, interests, and knowledge (Apple & King 1977, p. 345). Pinto & Coulson (2011), argue that financial literacy is often mistakenly thought of as a neutral construct, when in fact current resources reinforce inequity within society. They maintain that current financial literacy needs to address gender through social justice. This begins by acknowledging unequal distribution of resources, while compensating those for differences that may disadvantage them. Pinto & Coulson (2011) argue that women are at a disadvantage both socioeconomically and culturally when it comes to negotiating (with) financial systems.

Within financial literacy, economic issues of gender have become part of the null curriculum (Flinders, Noddings, & Thornton, 1986). Eisner stated “it has important effects on the kinds of options one is able to consider, the alternatives one can examine, and the perspectives from which one can view a situation or problem” (as cited in Flinders, Noddings, & Thornton, 1985 p.34). Pinto & Coulson (2011), emphasize that within financial resources, a decision has been made of what to include in the explicit curriculum. Consequently, the resources “privilege certain knowledge, skills and attitudes, while marginalizing the null curriculum” (p. 65). Current financial literacy resources are created by corporations within the financial industry or by organizations with ties to the sector who have a vested interest in the explicit curriculum.

Presently, financial literacy resources stress value-neutrality and promote choice. Negative financial outcomes are assumed to be the result of poor financial choices caused by a lack of financial knowledge. This approach becomes problematic, as one examines further how aspects such as age, race and gender influence one’s interpretation, and access to financial knowledge. Apple and King (1977) stress that “the study of educational knowledge is a study in ideology, the investigation of what is considered legitimate knowledge” (p. 343). This leads me to the following curricular questions: Who is deciding what is considered legitimate knowledge? Whose interests are they serving?

To understand the complexity that these curricular questions provoke, there is a need as Kanu & Glor (2006) describe, to become an “amateur intellectual” in response to the “elements that are attempting to keep consciousness closed for economic gain” (p. 108). Here Pinto and Coulson (2011) also remind us, that we must critique the different ways financial knowledge is represented and gendered in the school curriculum. Exploring financial resources critically from a social justice lens, affords us opportunities to further examine how wealth, resources, and opportunities are (inequitably) distributed within society.

Current resources support the notion that women have equal opportunities to participate in our economic, political, and cultural sectors. However, women continue to face unique financial challenges. We continue to earn less than men for comparable work. We are more likely to stay at home without pay for domestic labour. We tend to take jobs in lower paying professions. During this time, men are able to profit from domestic labour to build their assets and accumulate wealth. Pinto & Coulson (2011) argue, that within financial literacy the different paths taken by women are considered personal choices, rather than a result of the different societal barriers they are living. They contend that although women may have equal access to opportunities, these opportunities are not distributed in an equitable fashion and, in turn, warrant the call for social justice approaches to teach financial literacy education.

Pinto & Coulson (2011) examined three financial literacy curriculum resources. They utilized critical discourse to conduct their gendered social justice analysis of the documents. The discourses of neoliberal choice and gender neutrality were evident in all three financial literacy resources. Their findings illustrated how the documents worked to disregard other possible causes of financial misfortune when they framed financial knowledge as value-neutral. Pinto & Coulson (2011) found that the choice and neutral discourses reproduced a gender-blind approach for teaching financial literacy.

Such gender-blind approaches towards financial literacy education reinforce a patriarchal society, by positioning a dominant male culture as the norm, and also ignoring male privilege. If financial literacy does not inform women of these circumstances, then young women are left to assume that they have full access and benefit to such financial resources and the respective neoliberal economic literacies they reproduce. When this fails, blame is placed on the individual rather than externally on societal barriers (such as the 2008 financial crisis mantra of big banks being too large to fail). If we do not develop the capacity to read such documents critically within the contexts of schooling, then young women might not be able to take such macro contexts into consideration and adjust their educational perspective accordingly.

Looking back at my experiences around financial education, I can see that gender played a part in shaping my educational perspectives. I often shied away from more labour intensive jobs that would pay more, because it didn’t feel like the right place for a woman. As a result, I potentially missed out on accumulating financial wealth, while some of my male counterparts were doing just that.

In order to make the most of financial literacy, one needs to be aware of the ways in which they may be at a disadvantage due to systemic barriers. This goes well beyond gender. Women are not the only group marginalized within current financial literacy resources. A closer examination of current financial literacy resources is required. A move away from current choice and neutral discourses is needed toward an approach that acknowledges issues of gender equity and social justice.


Apple, M., & King, N. (1977). What do Schools Teach? Curriculum Inquiry, 6(4), 341-358.

Flinders, D., Noddings, N., & Thornton, S. (1986). The Null Curriculum: Its Theoretical Basi and Practical Implications. Curriculum Inquiry, 16(1), 33-42.

Kanu, Y., & Glor, M. (2006). ‘Currere’ to the rescue? Teachers as ‘amateur intellectuals’ in a knowledge society. Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies, 4(2), 101-122.

Pinto, L., & Coulson, E. (2011). Social Justice and the Gender Politics of Financial Literacy Education. Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies, 9(2), 54-80.