Teacher's Classroom Money System Divides Opinion As He Charges 'Desk Rent'

An elementary school teacher's interesting method to teach his students financial literacy has gone viral online, and split opinion while doing so.

Fourth and fifth grade teacher Mr. Vuong shared his technique to TikTok on September 25 and gained over 3 million views at the time of publication. The video, however, has split viewers, with some feeling the lesson is a valuable and essential one, while others have questioned the need to "introduce capitalism to the classroom."

Vuong uses his very own currency of "brain bucks" which he awards to children for good behavior and attendance—one buck for each day they're in school, and extra bucks to earn for things like, "being responsible, contributing to discussion, so on and so forth."

He charges the students a rent of 15 brain bucks every last Friday of the month, where the kids have to pay out for their desks. Any left over money can then be spent on the "treasure chest" or to buy something more expensive from the "treasure trove."

Orders are placed on the classroom's own version of Amazon—Vuongmazon, where a tax of three brain bucks is also added. Kids also have the option to pay off their yearly rent in one go for 75 brain bucks, leaving them rent-free for the rest of the year.

"As a teacher, I value connecting what they're learning in the classroom to the real world. I liked the concept of using money and knew that a lot of people has expressed how schools don't teach skills like finances/budgeting. So, I somehow connected my second grade teacher's usage of 'buckazoids' to my own brain bucks system and mimicked the real world a bit more. This past year, as kids were learning from home, I had to adapt the system and make it digital. That was how I started using the ClassDojo app so they can check their Brain Bucks online from home. I also made the Vuongmazon page. I liked it so much that I decided to keep it this year... also to build their conceptual understanding of the physical 'cash' brain bucks with not-so-tangible amount shown on the app.

"For the kids, it's just fun to pretend like they are doing 'grown-up' things," he said.

The video can also be seen in full here.

With millions of views, the teaching method was met with varying opinions online on just how beneficial it is. A sixth grade teacher from Harlem, Mr. Wright wrote: "Wow, I don't like this at all...why would you try to replicate capitalism in the classroom? What happens if they can't make rent?"

Vuong told Newsweek that while he wishes it was different, capitalism is a fact of life, and there's no harm in preparing his students for it in a fun way. "Sadly, as much as I don't agree with the capitalistic system that we are a part of, it's not changing anytime soon. I strongly believe in getting these kids prepared for the real world in any way possible: learning how to regulate their emotions, advocating for themselves and others, being aware and proactive about social issues, building self- and social awareness... and learning how to budget their money.

"Getting exposed to how capitalism works, even at the most basic level, can help some of these kids learn about what's wrong with it and potentially inspire them to move towards making the system more equitable or changing it altogether. We should not shelter kids from the harsh truths of reality. These are fourth and fifth graders, about to go into middle school, living in a world of social media; they know more than what we would like them to know about at this age. They are not too young to learn about money management in a safe and controlled environment. The nice thing is that they are free to make mistakes without the real world consequences."

Another user recounted her own school experience, writing: "This is an interesting idea but it isn't fair to base it on attendance. I've had chronic health issues since I was a baby and I had months where I'd miss a week or so of school."

Vuong, however, addressed concerns left by commenters in a follow-up video, reassuring that he values equity in teaching and wouldn't "evict" a child from their desk. With attendance, Vuong explained that there are other ways for the kids to earn enough money for desk rent, including being kind and showing integrity.

If they couldn't make rent because they decided to spend their brain bucks on treats, however, he explained he would have a talk with them and provide more opportunities to earn it again.

"I am a teacher that values social emotional learning and equity," he said. "I would never exclude a child for ANY reasons. Like I said in my second video, I never had a problem with kids not making rent because of severe attendance issues; and in the future, if that is the case, I would definitely accommodate or de-prioritize the system altogether and take care of what's going on in real life.

"I am a teacher, not a landlord. My kids are my students, not tenants. If I have to drop the system and try something else for an individual student to meet their needs, I would gladly do so," he explained.

Although the video found Vuong forced to defend himself over analytical comments, others rushed to applaud the system and even wished it for themselves as children.

"I can see now, based on the comments, why teaching is such a hard job. This is a creative way to teach life skills," wrote one TikTok user.

"There was a school trip in my elementary school once, we ran an entire town. Some at the bank, some at city hall, some had their own business or were employees at those businesses and I loved everything about it except that it only lasted a day," one user remembered.

"So helpful, great for teaching necessary life skills," commented another.

After comments on how the system may impact those with health issues and disabilities, Vuong said that he's now adding sick days and personal time off to the system, "because those happen in real life and I want to reinforce the fact that it's important to take care of their own physical/mental needs; therefore, they shouldn't feel guilty or ashamed if they miss a day because they weren't feeling well.

"I just wish that people would take the time to watch my other videos before they jump to conclusions about who I am as a teacher. But hey, that's the internet, and people can be quick to judge."

School teacher teaching science to class
Stock image of an elementary school classroom. Getty Images