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Show some love for teachers this February

31 Jan

Learn more about this campaign via its YouTube promo video.

Show some love


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.

Roadkill Goldfish featured on Fox News Latino: What can Latinos do to improve our children’s education?

15 Jan

Fox LatinoMy great grandmother attended school for only three years, and my grandmother dropped out during eighth grade. Life circumstances limited their education. Bisabuela grew up in rural Puerto Rico during the early 1900s when public schools were virtually non-existent. Abuela came to New York as a toddler, but poverty forced her to drop out at 13-years-old so she could work to help support her family.

Thankfully, educational opportunities for Latinos have improved dramatically since then. My mother was the first high school graduate in the family, and I became the first college graduate.

The U.S. Department of Education released a study in 2012 that examined high school completion rates from 1972 to 2009. Overall, graduation rates have increased for all races and ethnicities, but Latinos have had the largest jump over the 27-year study. Get the full story at Fox News Latino.*

* I am very proud of my Puerto Rican roots, and I appreciate the opportunity to share my heritage and experience as a guest contributor for Fox News Latino.  Check out other pieces I’ve written for them.

What parents really want from public schools

9 Jan

school houseWhat do parents really want from public schools?

Plain and simple, we want them to help us educate our kids. Help them learn to read and write. Build their math skills. Introduce them to science and show them how the world works. Educate them about history and let them see how the past impacts our future. Expose them to the arts and let them tap their creativity. Help us prepare them for adulthood.

That’s it. Nothing more.

We’re not interested in having curriculum that tells our children how they should think; we’d rather have curriculum that gives them things to think about. We don’t want to turn teachers into surrogate parents; they have enough to do already, and most of us are quite capable of doing it ourselves. And finally, we could do without administrators, school boards, state education officials and union leaders who belittle experienced teachers and parents, but bow down to politicians and corporate education entrepreneurs.

Parents really do support public education, but we’re tired of the politics and the “we know what’s best for your child” attitude. No offense, but as our children’s primary teachers, we’re the ones who know what’s best. Others are welcome to give suggestions. but we make the final decisions.

Most of us attended public schools, and we believe these schools are good for our kids and communities. We honestly like the majority of our children’s teachers, and we know they genuinely care about their students.  (Reality check: Some current teachers need to find new careers that don’t involve education or children.)

Parents know the current educational system has problems, and we want to be included in creating the solutions. Officials may be pleasantly surprised to learn we’re much smarter than the elite Ivy League and Washington reformers –  even though most of us were educated by the public school system.

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.

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.

Why are we praising the kids who created #lookadouche?

19 Nov

Aisleen tweet

Justin Lookadoo ticked off the wrong people – a professor of theology and a bunch of teens with smartphones.

The youth speaker showed up last week to give a presentation on dating and character to students at a Texas high school. He was met by members of the media. (He must be a big deal to draw in that kind of press attention for a high school assembly.) During his presentation, a few curious kids sent out live tweets such as,  “Are we allowed to ask questions at this assembly? If so,  is “f_ck you” a question?”. When it was over, the braver ones approached him (with media and smartphone videos in tow) to confront him about his views on gender roles and dating.

The students did their research before Lookadoo’s arrival and learned he was one of those barbaric Christians who believe in traditional gender roles when it comes to relationships and dating. He had written a book in 2003 on “dating rules” and conducted seminars for church youth groups.

The media reported Lookadoo said girls need to shut up and be more feminine. Oh heck no! I remember my time on  the dating scene. God gave me a mouth in addition to a uterus, and there was no way I was shutting up to attract a man. Be more feminine? I was not sticking a bow on top of my head and acting dainty just so I could have someone buy me dinner at Applebee’s.

The media ran with it.  Within a few days, outlets all across the country were berating this guy by mocking his hairstyle, called him creepy, insulting his family and so much more. Serves him right.

No, it doesn’t. This is wrong.  Very wrong. A man has been made a target because his beliefs didn’t match a disrespectful mini-mob who turned a high school assembly into a press conference and public hanging. There is no room for mature disagreement and intelligent debate. Don’t waste time talking one-on-one. Go ahead and tweet live so the world can see you’re not taking any crap from a speaker who dares to have a different point of view. Go for the jugular and take this guy out. We don’t need him spreading that trash to impressionable teens. That’s a job for the entertainment media.

Rev. Dr. Jaime Clark-Soles, a professor of theology at Southern Methodist University, wrote a column for Huffington Post in which she expressed her outrage when she discovered Lookadoo was going to be speaking at her daughter’s school. “Justin Lookadoo is in no way qualified to address children in a public school setting. Mr. Lookadoo is a religious speaker who has published religious books with a religious press,” she wrote. “He has also published many of his religious beliefs regarding gender roles (all based on a heterosexual model in which boys and girls are to pair up) on his website.”

(Just curious. Does that mean teachers who support traditional gender roles through their synagogue, temple, church or mosque aren’t qualified to lead children in a public school setting? Should they be fired if they are public about their beliefs?)

There are a few inconvenient facts you won’t see in many of the media reports. The comments that are widely circulated in the news and the blogosphere came from the 2003 book, not the 2013 presentation. Lookadoo  didn’t use the assembly to talk about his religious beliefs. The guy knows the difference between a school and church audience. He didn’t slam anyone for their sexual orientation.  None of that mattered to Clark-Soles. She wrote, “Some reporters have said to me: “Justin says he didn’t mention his website or his rules during the actual assembly so you have no grounds for being upset.” My response is this: Would a school dare to bring in a speaker with well-publicized controversial views on race or a track record of disparaging a particular ethnic group? Of course not! So why would they invite someone with similarly outrageous views on gender? Some views on gender roles are just plain dangerous.”

Here are a few other pesky facts. This presentation was optional. Students chose to be there.  No one was forced to attend. No tax dollars were used. Lookadoo spoke at the high school in 2009 and was invited back. He’s done thousands of these things for both public schools and  faith-based organizations.

Clark-Soles offered praise to the students who spoke out.  “I am inspired by and proud of all of the students who have rejected these unjust, sexist convictions that are damaging to all people, no matter what their gender,” she wrote. “Students, you are intelligent, courageous, and mature. Keep up the fantastic work!!!”

What? Praise for the same mature and intelligent bunch that showed no respect to an adult and christened him with the vulgar hashtag – #lookadouche?

As a courtesy to the students, I have blocked out their contact information.

As a courtesy to the students, I have blocked out their contact information.

I took a deeper dive into Lookadoo’s seemingly outrageous views on dating. When I first heard the news reports, I was very angry, but my journalism instincts suspected something was missing from the story. On the surface, the views promoted by the  media can be quite inflammatory; however, they are excerpts taken from his book. Excerpts. One or two paragraphs taken from a book that goes into a whole lot more detail and context. He has a brash way of getting attention, but it’s not oppressive and hateful stuff. This guy is a former juvenile probation officer who has seen kids suffer the consequences of poor life choices, and he’s trying to give them a different perspective in hopes they can be spared unnecessary pain and heartache. (Of course, we all know it is highly judgmental for anyone to suggest poor choices and behavior can have crappy consequences.)

Some women are upset Lookadoo pointed out females can be a vicious bunch. Are you serious? Ladies, do you remember middle school and high school? Do you remember what the dating scene was like? Yes, females can be as vicious. Want proof? Talk to Rebecca Sedwick’s family. The 12-year-old committed suicide this fall after a pack of girls ruthlessly bullied her – over a boy.

Justin, I am so sorry you were ambushed like this. These people weren’t interested in hearing you speak; they were looking for the opportunity to take you down.

News media, I am so sorry you are missing the real stories behind this: a small group has manipulated a school assembly to destroy a man just because of something he believes and our society is calling this bunch “heroes” because they “stood up to a bully.” No they didn’t; they are the bullies. They took his beliefs out of context and portrayed them as “dangerous,” created vulgar names,  defamed the guy and pretty much told the  3,000+ other venues where Lookadoo has spoken that they were idiots for allowing him in. They created a media firestorm.

Maybe I don’t know Christianity as well as a professor of theology like Dr. Clark-Soles does, but something tells me Jesus wouldn’t be celebrating what happened. I also get the feeling the crusade doesn’t mesh well with the whole Jesus thing about “love thy neighbor as thyself.” However, I do know one thing for certain – Jesus loves and forgives. Perhaps love and forgiveness – and basic manners-  are better tactics than social media smears.

(You can find the original Dallas Morning News story about Lookadoo’s appearance at The link may not be accessible for long.)

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.

So play nice.

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