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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 MikeRoweWorks.com.
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
My 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.
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.
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.
- Learn how to use partial products for multiplication.
- Learn how to use Big 7 for division.
- Check out some Common Core math worksheets that use conceptual math.