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Who says college is the only way to ensure future success?

30 Jan
Image courtesy of Mike Rowe Works

Image credit: Mike Rowe Works and

My family has experienced two firsts with my generation: we have the first college graduate and the first successful business owner.

They are two entirely different people.

I am the college graduate with undergraduate and graduate degrees in journalism; I now work as a public relations professional and teach a few college classes.  I rely on other people for my income. My cousin Jason, a high school graduate, runs a very successful heating and air conditioning business in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. He provides jobs for 20 people.

I have tremendous admiration for Jason. Not only is he a savvy business owner, he’s also a great husband, father and all-around nice guy. He is a living testimony of the success that can be attained by someone who pursues a skilled trade. He’s spent his entire life working hard and smart, and he uses these skills to help others provide for their families.

That admiration doesn’t diminish the hard work that went into building my college-based career; I paid my dues to get here through years of studying and course work, professional certifications, grueling hours at the office and a lot of personal sacrifices of self, time and energy.

I also struggled financially and incurred debt.

I was fortunate to have an academic scholarship for my undergraduate degree during the late 80s, but I still had to work to cover my living expenses. I received a great education and decided I wanted to return for my graduate degree a few years later. There were no scholarships for graduate students, and my full-time salary was barely enough to cover my rent, so I financed roughly $7,000 to cover my tuition and books. (That graduate degree would cost roughly $20,000 today.)  Did all that education pay off? Yes and no. My current earnings are modest, but I love what I do.

Jason’s career cost?  Nada. Zip. Nothing.  He got his start working for an HVAC company as an apprentice and worked his way up the ladder.  His earnings? Way more than mine, and he loves what he does, too.

College is not the only option
Today, skilled trades are in demand. The demand for workers with art, history or literature degrees has always been small, and it’s nearly microscopic today.  In fact, there are 3 million jobs out there that companies are having a hard time filling – and you don’t have to give up $70,000 in tuition money or postpone a real paycheck for four years to get them.   Apprenticeships and vocational training can open the doors.

My experience and the nation’s economic slump have taught me college may not be the best option for everyone, and consequently, it’s not on my list of “Thou Shalts” for my children.

My teenage daughter loves school and has her heart set on being a teacher, which means tuition bills will likely hit our family in just a few years. I don’t mind because this is what she WANTS to do, not what we’re forcing her to do. She also understands that college is not a four-year party financed by mom and dad; she has to contribute as well.

My 10-year-old son has different goals. He’s always been on hands-on learner with a mantra of “I can do it.” He’s not a big fan of the classroom, but he’s a frightening good strategist and has a heart for protecting others. His life goal? He hasn’t narrowed it down, but military service, law enforcement and restaurant owner have been mentioned.

Just as my grandmother is proud of the firsts Jason and I attained, I will be proud of my children and the firsts they attain for the family. My daughter could join a long line of teachers, or my son could be the first Navy SEAL or restaurateur in the family. Regardless of what future paths they choose, I look forward to cheering them on as they pick up skills that will enable them to support themselves and their future families – and I pray they do it without debt.

Learn more about college alternatives at
The former “Dirty Jobs” host launched an initiative last year to encourage more students and young adults to pursue in-demand skilled trades rather than incur debt and face uncertain job prospects. His site has great information on job profiles, trade news, financial aid and much more.


Hear no evil, see no evil, stop no evil: A follow up on the Grammys

28 Jan

So you didn’t watch the Grammy Awards? Good for you.

I don’t mean to sound crass, but you’re not doing anyone any favors by proudly proclaiming you won’t watch such filth nor are you helping anyone by labeling the show and other media programs as “evil.”

If you really want to make a difference in America’s media landscape, DO SOMETHING about it. Don’t pat yourself on the back for avoiding it.  Believe me, these folks are not crying because they lost you as a viewer. They actually love when conservatives loudly complain about programs, music or movies.  As a matter of fact, our complaints help them. Why? Because it makes others think, “Well, if they hate it, it must be AWESOME!”

My in-box has been burning up with notes from people who are proudly declaring their abstinence and summoning the wrath of God on people they declare to be evil, vile and other not-so-nice words. I agree many in media and entertainment do behave despicably and produce content that hurts society; however, I haven’t posted the abstainers’ or judges’ comments because they would do more harm than good. The indignation, as righteous as it may be, won’t change the situation. The condemnation won’t change the people responsible. None of it will bring anyone closer to God.  There are more effective ways to express disapproval and spur real change.

Look, I’m not saying you have to watch or listen to this stuff. I agree a lot of it is crap, and there have been many times I needed to pour bleach into my eyes and ears because of things I’ve caught on television or radio.  However, I am saying you have to get out of your bubble, acknowledge this stuff is out there, and work to change it. Complaining to the networks won’t work, nor will boycotting their shows. These tactics actually boost the offending items’ popularity. However, there are two tactics that do work. Go after their advertisers and tell your government representatives to hold the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) accountable.

No advertiser will run commercials, which finance these shows, if they fear they’ll lose a huge portion of their consumer base. Just a few years ago, parent groups were able to get “Skins,” an MTV series with a whole lot of underage sex, pulled off the air because they targeted the show’s advertisers.  The FCC has regulations that prohibit the airing of “obscene” material before 10 p.m., and they can levy some pretty hefty fines for public stations that do it. (CBS, the host of the Grammys, is considered public. MTV and other cable outlets are not.) Granted, the FCC has been pretty lax about enforcement in recent years, but that’s why it’s so important for you to be persistent. Contact your federal representatives and demand action.

You can also have dialogues about these issues. I use Roadkill Goldfish to start those dialogues, but I also spend a lot of time personally talking with other people and listening to their thoughts and ideas. I encourage you to take the time to talk to people who may have a different opinion. Find out WHY they think the way they do. Use hard facts to point out flaws in their arguments.  Show alternatives.

I believe we can change today’s culture, but we can’t do it if we’re patting ourselves on the back with our sanitized hands.

It’s time to roll up the sleeves and get our hands dirty as we help others out of the muck.

Grammy Awards, we appreciate the Sunday night grinding lesson

27 Jan
Image: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Image: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Maybe it was wrong to teach my daughter to cross her legs when sitting in a chair.

Thank you, CBS and the Grammy Awards. Thank you for showing me the error of my ways at 8 p.m. on a Sunday evening.

I sincerely appreciate you starting the show with Beyoncé demonstrating the proper way to sit and writhe in a chair. Wear a thong and spread your legs. Got it. It truly was an amazing and child-friendly tutorial on how to use household furnishings as erotic props, and I thank you.

The bonus lesson from Jay Z was pretty awesome as well. He showed that men really don’t “exploit” women in the music industry. Come on, folks. Beyoncé is his wife, and he’s got a baby girl at home. Did you miss hearing him dedicate his Grammy to them? The haters are just jealous they don’t have the courage to publicly embrace their sensuality, and they’re really thinking, “She is a beautiful singer/dancer, AND I’d like to talk to her about her recent paper on advancements in neuropsychiatry.”

I was a bit disappointed about the use of the  seven-second delay on some of the lyrics. Thankfully, some of the good stuff got through, and I was able to read lips for the other things. A few folks may consider it censorship because you bleeped lyrics that showcased the beautiful intimacy of love between a man and woman. Where would our world be without a couple singing loving affirmations such as, “I’m rubbing on it, rub-rubbing” and “Slid the panties right to the side; ain’t got the time to take drawers off?”

The performance reminded me of a speech the late curmudgeon Fred Rogers shared when he was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame:

Fame is a four-letter word; and like tape or zoom or face or pain or life or love, what ultimately matters is what we do with it. I feel that those of us in television are chosen to be servants. It doesn’t matter what our particular job, we are chosen to help meet the deeper needs of those who watch and listen–day and night! …We all have only one life to live on earth. And through television, we have the choice of encouraging others to demean this life or to cherish it in creative, imaginative ways. (From The World According to Mister Rogers (Kindle Locations 540-558).)

Thank you for meeting America’s deeper needs, CBS.

Dear teachers, I owe you an apology

8 Jan
Sorry cat

Posting a cute little kitten meme doesn’t make it all better, but I do hope teachers can forgive me for my prior prejudice.

Dear Teachers,

I owe you an apology.  From the deepest level of my heart, I am so sorry for misjudging you.

This is what happens when a person bases her opinion about a school solely on test scores. This is what happens when a person judges an entire profession based on news stories about a few bad apples. This is what happens when a person believes the so-called education experts’ solutions rather than trusting the men and women who invest their lives in the education and well-being of my children.

I have been guilty of all of the above, and I ask for your forgiveness.

My epiphany came last week when I made a Facebook post about my fifth-grade son’s problems with math. He’s had difficulty since third grade, which coincides with when Texas, as well as virtually every other state in the country, adopted the education experts’ “conceptual math,” a teaching method that shuns memorization of math facts and promotes multi-step “strategies” to solve math problems. Several of my teacher friends blasted the new method.  My friend April, a third grade teacher in Tennessee, confessed she desperately wants to teach her class using the tried and true methods that have worked during her 20-year teaching career, but she is prohibited from doing so by the state.  She candidly told me teachers are not allowed to speak out against the new material, especially with students’ parents.

April and other veteran teachers I’ve talked to say student comprehension has not improved under any of the new methods, and Common Core is making things worse. They vigorously dispute U.S.  Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s assertion that “their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.” The kids and teachers are not the problem; the constant revamping of education by inexperienced experts is the problem.

Principals are also held hostage by the revamping problem. Earlier this year I attended a parent meeting about our elementary school’s curriculum and was told how the experts have determined these new techniques would be better for public school students. The teaching techniques, especially with math, were radically different from what my daughter experienced just three years earlier.  In exasperation, I blurted, “Why are we changing things every few years? Has there ever been a time when these experts thought public education worked?” The principal gave me a sympathetic smile. She wanted to respond, but couldn’t. I felt her pain.

Why do we keep trying to fix public education with new teaching models and testing? Why can’t we return to the teaching methods that worked for us, our parents and grandparents?  Long before reform became a buzzword, America’s public schools have been educating our nation’s scientists, engineers, teachers, economists, physicians and other degreed professionals. They’ve also educated our entrepreneurs, technology pioneers, farmers, mechanics, nurses and countless other Americans who contribute to making our society great. I believe they still do a good job, and they could do better if more parents gave a flip about their kids and the so-called experts got out of the teachers’ way.

April, like thousands of other teachers, has spent more time with 9-year-olds than a Teach for America volunteer or education reformers like Bill Gates. She knows what works. She teaches them reading, math, social studies and science. She provides books and supplies for kids who can’t afford them, spends her free time trying to engage busy or apathetic parents, comforts children when they are sad, and serves as their primary source of encouragement, and sometimes, discipline.  What would help improve education for April’s students? It’s not multi-billion dollar testing or new teaching models; it’s parental involvement.  A teacher cannot encourage a love for learning if the child’s parents treat education with disdain or indifference. Parents, not bureaucrats, need to be actively involved in their child’s life by reading with them, helping with homework, supporting teachers’ discipline efforts, and stressing the importance of learning.

Teachers, I don’t expect you to do this alone. You can’t. You need my help, and I need yours. You also deserve some gratitude for a job that often gets you more criticism than praise. Thank you for caring about my kids. I know you would do anything to protect them from harm, and I know their tears hurt you as much as they hurt me. Thank you for the emails and calls to update me on how they’re doing.  I know you want to keep me involved in the process. Thank you for inspiring them to be better people. I know you see their potential.

I want you to know that I have your back. You may not be able to speak out about things like Common Core or other curriculum issues, but I can. I will be loud and persistent because you are valuable, and I don’t want to see you run off because of ridiculous regulations and self-righteous reformers who have never been in a classroom. I recognize I am the worst PTA fundraising and party-planning mom, but I promise to be a great butt-kicking mom who will fight for things that will make our educational system better for you and my children.

I know you want what’s best for the kids, and I’m sorry for not standing up for you sooner.



P.S. –   I am a product of our nation’s public schools.


Parent tutorial: What is conceptual math?
This is not the math you learned during elementary school. The old time-tested methods for long division, borrowing and carrying are no longer used. In their place are tactics such as partial products for multiplication and magic seven for division. Students can no longer provide an answer; they must also show their work and explain the strategy they used to get it.  The techniques work for some students, but the multiple steps can cause great frustration for others and can make it nearly impossible for parents to help with homework.

Is it hate speech? You decide.

27 Dec

Many people aren’t exactly sure how to define “hate speech,” but they’re pretty confident they’d know it if they heard it.

Would you?

Take a look at some recent examples of comments that may or not be hate speech.  Check the ones you think qualify for the label.

The official definition of hate speech can be a little fuzzy. Most sources define it as oral or written messages that “incite hatred” against a person or group on the basis of their race, religion, sex, ethnicity or sexual orientation. What does “incite hatred” mean? To rouse strong dislike or ill will.

Freedom of speech is a right, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, to express beliefs and ideas without unwarranted government restriction. Does that mean Americans have the right to say whatever they want when they want to say it? Absolutely not.  An act of speech loses its protection when it creates a dangerous situation, such as provokes violence or incites illegal actions; when it libels or slanders an individual or organization by sharing false or misleading statements; or when it meets the legal definition of obscenity.

Is “hate speech” protected? In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Westboro Baptist Church had the protected right to hold protests at military funerals. Their protests usually involved members holding signs such as “God hates fags” and “Thank God for dead soldiers.”

Hateful? Yes.

Immoral? Oh yeah.

Infuriating? You betcha.

Illegal? No.

Although the courts protect such speech, many of America’s institutions of higher education do not. These colleges and universities have faced pressure to respond to the concerns of concerns of those who are the objects of hate. Consequently, they have adopted policies/penalties based on speech that offends any group based on race, gender, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.

The societal penalty for saying something hateful or insensitive used to be a stern reprimand or shunning of the speaker. The best thing to do was NOT to give the person the attention he or she craved. Ignore them, and they’ll go away. However, many people have been conditioned to be loud, persistent, and sometimes outrageous and threatening, whenever they encounter something that offends them. Some have been become a little too eager to throw a “hate speech” label on differences of opinion, and unfortunately, some have become hypocritical with their views on such speech.

Now take a second look at the quiz comments with a little background information:

  • “I hope and pray every day that someone anally rapes you.”
    The comment was left on Facebook for a  Christian youth speaker. The speaker is a white male; the writer is another white male.
  • “You deserve to be gang-raped for your stupidity.”
    The comment was left for a female blogger who wrote about why she didn’t want her daughter to emulate Miley Cyrus’s behavior. The blogger is conservative and of mixed ethnicity. The gender and ethnicity of the commenter are unknown.
  • “Hey, tranny. Know your place.”
    A transgendered student at Vassar College found this  note left on a dorm door. Other reports of similar notes followed; however, the hate was later discovered to a hoax. The “victim” and another student wrote the vile messages and then filed the reports themselves, claiming to be the victims of unknown haters.
  • “I’m gonna find you, _____, you toxic little queen, and I’m gonna (expletive) you up.”
    This is a tweet from actor Alec Baldwin directed at a reporter who accused his wife was tweeting at a funeral. Baldwin is a white male, and the reporter is a gay white male.

Does this information change any of your responses? Based on the working definition of the term, all the comments should qualify as hate speech because they incited hatred against an individual because of religion, gender or sexual orientation. However, many would argue the first example does not qualify because the recipient is a white, Christian male. Others would argue the second example does not qualify because the recipient, although female and multi-racial, has conservative viewpoints. The third was considered blatant hate speech and its news coverage created public outrage; however, few outlets bothered to cover the story when the comments were revealed as a hoax. The fourth got a pass because the speaker is an outspoken Hollywood actor known for his liberal political beliefs. (Baldwin finally faced consequences several months later after another hateful outburst.)

Hate speech is hate speech regardless of who it’s aimed at or who’s doing it. Too many media outlets perpetuate the problem when “news personalities” and other VIPs mock or discredit ANY person because of their beliefs, gender, race or any other personal factor; their actions add an implied endorsement to the treatment. They also add to the problem when they fail to exercise due diligence with allegations.

Hatred is ignorance that needs to be disputed with facts and dialogue, and ALL people benefit when you take vitriol out of the darkness and expose it in the light so people can see what it really is.

Comment Policy:
I welcome your feedback, but I will not tolerate personal attacks against me, my family or another commenter. It’s okay to disagree, but be respectful. Attack the issue, not the person.  Vulgarity, racism, religion bashing, slams about sexual orientation, name calling, advertisements and generally being a jerk to others will send your comment to the trash bin.

Why aren’t the masses calling for Phil Robertson’s head?

19 Dec

Lots of folks want Phil Robertson’s fuzzy head on plate.

The patriarch behind the hit reality show, “Duck Dynasty,” engaged in what some consider hate speech in a recent interview with GQ magazine. In the article, Robertson shared his opinions and beliefs about topics such as hunting, family, faith, sin and homosexuality.  GLAAD, an organization that promotes the image of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the media, was outraged and issued a statement through their spokesperson: “Phil’s decision to push vile and extreme stereotypes is a stain on A&E and his sponsors, who now need to re-examine their ties to someone with such public disdain for LGBT people and families.”

A&E, the network that airs “Duck Dynasty,” re-examined their ties and responded, “We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series ‘Duck Dynasty.’ His personal views in no way reflect those of A+E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community. The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely.”

So what do other media outlets think about Robertson? Check out a few of today’s headlines:

  • Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson Spews Anti-Gay Comments in GQ Profile (TV Guide)
  • GLAAD Slams ‘Duck Dynasty’ Star Phil Robertson for ‘Vile’ Comments About Homosexuality (Hollywood Reporter)

I suspect a little negativity and bias with loaded words like “spews,” “slams,” and “vile.”  To its credit, the GQ article was pretty open about its bias and used a good bit of snark and vulgarity throughout the piece to describe Robertson and his beliefs.

We know how the media feel. How do the people feel? Surprisingly, the media outrage has not led to a public stoning of Robertson. The majority of the feedback on social media and news sites has been supportive of his right to express his opinion and disapproval of A&E’s punitive actions against him.

Why the change? Why aren’t the masses calling for Robertson’s head and spewing hate at him? Maybe it’s because we’re tired of the “I don’t like your point of view; therefore, you must be destroyed” tactics that have killed dialogue and made people fearful to speak out.

Maybe it’s because we recognize Phil Robertson doesn’t deserve this. No one does. You may not agree with everything Robertson says, but you can’t deny he’s a guy who turned his life around, sticks to his convictions, supports his family and genuinely loves others enough to share his source of joy with them.

Maybe it’s because most people realize that it’s okay to have an opinion and disagreement doesn’t mean hatred.

Foul parents ruin girls’ basketball game

15 Dec

The Lady Eagles played hard on the basketball court; however, the eighth-grade team had a few embarrassing moments.

The blonde kept running her mouth every time the opposing team made it to the free throw line. The one with the gold necklace got frustrated with the officiating, stomped her feet and shrilly exclaimed, “We need new refs!” The guy who wore his Oakleys on his baseball cap yelled every time he disagreed with a decision on the court and didn’t stop his tantrum until the officials changed the call in his favor.

Life can be tough when you’re a middle school girl; it can be even tougher when a bunch of parents choose your basketball game to act like a pack of rabid dogs.

Welcome to the intersection of youth sports and parental failure, the spot where moms and dads feel like they can berate or threaten anyone who dares to stand in the way of their athletic prodigy’s chance of getting a college scholarship or going pro – at 13.

I spent most of my weekend stuck in this intersection, enduring a group of parents that revved up for multiple hit-and-runs aimed at other families, game officials and teenage girls dribbling a basketball. We were brought together by our city’s annual invitational basketball tournament, an event that unites more than 30 local middle school teams for two days of competition.

My daughter represented her school on one of those teams. Our school district takes that representation very seriously and has an athletic code of conduct that addresses issues such as academic standards, behavior, appearance, commitment and character. All student athletes are required to adhere to it. The school district also has a parental code of conduct that all athletes’ parents are required to sign.  The document includes statements such as:

  • I will always model good sportsmanship at competitions by the way I treat all athletes, coaches, officials and other fans.
  • I will always remember that while I am not an athlete, I am representing my child’s team at competitions.
  • I will insist that my child always demonstrate good sportsmanship and treat other athletes, coaches and officials with respect.
  • I will always teach my child how to win and lose with grace by the way I act in each of those situations.

Apparently a few of the Eagles parents didn’t have the same document. Roughly a dozen of their moms, dads and other family members violated annihilated the code during their girls’ semi-final game against the Gators.  The crew yelled “Miss!” when the Gators took free throws.  The blonde loudly criticized the female referee and when shushed by another parent, she defiantly refused to be silenced and bellowed, “I want her to hear me!”  A man near her decided the female referee needed to hear more so he added, “Stupid b-tch!” to the shouts. The same decency-impaired group smiled and smugly clapped when a player shoved another girl from behind and snuck in a covert punch.

My family, along with other families from our school, sat wedged in the bleachers between the Eagles and Gators sections. Our girls’ game was next, and they were in the stands with us watching the game. The adults’ conduct made them very uncomfortable. The situation grew progressively worse as the minutes went by, and things threatened to get really ugly when the Eagles started losing their lead in the fourth quarter. A mom from our group decided it may be a good time to find the police officer who was assigned to the event. He came in a few minutes later and stood in front of the offending section. The crew was uncharacteristically quiet for a beautiful four minutes. Four minutes of real basketball. Four minutes of reasonable behavior. Four minutes of bliss for everyone in the stands and on the court.

When the final buzzer went off, the dozen grumbled. Despite all the yelling and negativity they directed toward the officials and opposing team, their girls lost the game. Imagine that.

I overheard a muffled conversation behind me. Apparently their girls could have won, but the evil referees kept making bad calls against them, and it was totally unfair that roughly 20 percent of the team fouled out during the game.

A grandmother of a Gators player, who sat on the opposite side of the gym, grinned. “It’s a game,” she added. “Someone has to win, and someone has to lose. It’s competition; it’s nothing personal.”

She shook her head when she heard about the feedback from the other end of the bleachers. “Children look to adults to see what to do,” she said. “We lead by example. What kind of example was that?”

Indeed. What kind of example was that? Based on today’s parental behavior, the girls learned:

  • It’s okay to call a woman a b_tch when you disagree with her.
  • It’s okay to punch someone when you get frustrated. Mom and Dad will smile – just don’t get caught doing it.
  • Mom and Dad will never let anyone tell you that you did something wrong. They’ll blame it on another kid or take it out on the adult (referee) who dares to say you’re not perfect.
  • Yelling at or criticizing another person makes you look smarter and more powerful.  (Reality check: You look like a bully, and you’re reinforcing the behavior with your child.)
  • Adulthood and maturity are two entirely different things.

Stay classy, Mom and Dad. You’re making the most of life’s teachable moments and providing your daughter with some outstanding lessons about sportsmanship, character and honor. Thanks for inspiring me.

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