Using the Crash Course to Educate Teens

Can you imagine how it must feel to be a teenager today confronting your economic future? Do you go to college and incur a debt you will spend the rest of your life repaying? Or do you consider jumping right into the job market, and finding a job, any job, to begin to build a resume? I am an independent studies teacher at a small charter school, and students are my special interest. The Crash Course materials have played a valuable role in answering some of those questions that teens confront.

For my Independent Studies students, I provide a monthly assignment list for each course, which they must complete to graduate from high school.  On occasion, I teach small classes, but for the most part, I help students and families direct their own education.  I rely heavily on high-school textbooks (with some supplementary material) for students to read and write chapter reviews and reports.  Economics, in my opinion, is right up there with health and nutrition in terms of the most important information students must grasp to survive in today’s world. 

I am older, way older than my students and most parents, and emerged from a very different job market in the Baby Boomer era.  I completed a career with the federal government in a job with substantial budget responsibilities, and retired early in 2000.  I returned to my small hometown with a comfortable pension, a small nest egg, and, having almost completed a Masters in Business Administration, considered myself quite capable of managing my finances into my golden years.

I quickly found that the ends of my budget weren’t meeting.  It was clear that getting a job was an option I must pursue if I wanted to continue to make the mortgage payments on my small ranch (which was earning very little revenue).  So I became a teacher.  Then the Crash of 2008 left me with an underwater mortgage and trying to keep my head above water to pay bills by working a second job beyond teaching.  And here I was, an adult with many years of personal and professional financial experience, floundering on an ocean of financial uncertainty.

Given my recent experience, I asked myself, How could I help educate students to navigate their financial lives successfully given the tremendous headwinds they would likely encounter?  The school textbook material presented the ideal capitalistic model that had just failed so dramatically.  Around 2011, I was lucky to learn about the Crash Course and watch it with other members of my community.  Suddenly, I understood that the financial meltdown wasn’t a reflection of my ineptitude, but the failure of our economic system to behave responsibility. Obviously, the experts the best and the brightest had made a mess of the economy, and there was no bright sunrise on the horizon.

Chris Martenson’s forecast that "the next 20 years will not be like the last 20 years" is a great departure point for students to consider as they plot their future.  I ask my high school students to both read the textbook and watch the Crash Course.  I expect them to take notes on the Crash Course and discuss their thoughts with me.  I explain that the Crash Course is another perspective, one that may be of use to them in understanding how our economy has worked and what shortcomings may exist.  I ask them to use their own common sense to determine what makes sense to them.

At first, I was a little concerned that the level of material would be over the heads of these young minds.  I experimented with my more advanced students first.  But once I asked my less-academically-gifted students to view the Crash Course, they also gained a great deal.  In fact, they found the Course much easier to understand than the text.  I can’t say that their notes or overall understanding were necessarily at college level, but I was heartened that they watched the Course and had thoughts to share.  They were listening.

In the final analysis, the Crash Course has also shaped my advice to my students in another major way.  While I would once have unilaterally recommended college to any student willing to put in the effort, I now ask students to also consider acquiring a practical skill.  I explain that while programming video games may be a great career, knowing how to repair a car, weld, or raise chickens may also be useful at some point.  In fact, it might provide a job that helps pay for a college career.  Or it might start them on an alternative path that is attractive enough to forego college and its accompanying bill.

My students understand that they need to prepare for scenarios that none of us can even imagine at this point.  I believe they have greater confidence in trusting their own instincts.  One student gave the issue of future professions some thought and decided that the most useful education would be the study of engineering and history.  His rationale was that if our civilization must return to a less-resource-intensive mode, it would help to know how past civilizations survived in the Pre-Industrial Era.  With this information, you could apply today’s engineering technology to build a sustainable economy with some comforts high-tech solutions for low-tech living.

Many young folks today are creative and practical.  The Crash Course helps to prepare them for some of the economic realities they can expect.  Perhaps their generation will be the one to construct a viable economy and culture when the hockey sticks have reached their ultimate upward limit.

~ Debbie Gibbs

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at