It started with a question …
At our first speaking engagement shortly after Neiman Marcus launched our book, during Q&A someone asked the seemingly innocent question, "Why isn't this taught in school?" How were we to know that just months later we would be developing and teaching a 12-week "Red & Black Personal Finance and Life 101" program to the Class of 2010 at KIPP Houston High School? Or that it would result in What I Learned About Life When My Husband Got Fired! being approved as a personal financial literacy textbook by the (Texas) State Board of Education.
KIPP Houston High School (KHHS)
For those of you not familiar with KIPP (which included us up until a few days before our initial meeting with them), it stands for Knowledge Is Power Program and was co-founded by Teach For America alumnae Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin in Houston in 1994. Since then, KIPP has grown to a national network of public schools which are recognized for narrowing the achievement gap in public education and putting underserved students on the path to college.
KIPP Houston High School is where our unexpected, but extremely rewarding, journey into the world of education began. Although the Texas Education Agency (TEA) requires essential knowledge and skills in personal financial literacy be incorporated into various courses and grade levels, KIPP felt financial literacy is such a critical component of college and life readiness for seniors (soon to be college freshmen) that it should have its own curriculum. We were as surprised as anyone when they asked us to not only develop, but to teach, the program and owe our gratitude to KIPP for its trust in us and for seeing past the messengers and focusing on the message.
Our Guinea Pigs
Once we committed to developing the program, Black recognized we needed expert advice so she requested a focus group of high school seniors. Eight amazing students, who we fondly call our "Guinea Pigs," met with us for five weekly working lunches. After reading specific sections of the book, they identified the key topics they thought should be covered in the program. In addition, it was the "Guinea Pigs" who recommended our book should be used as a textbook, calling it a "reality show in a book". Looking back, they were the first to use a "book club approach", although we didn't realize it (or the power of the format) until many months later.
Test Driving A Second Version
We organized the weekly classes to first address financial topics, and then we went back through the book to cover the other topics (such as time management, dealing with stress, relationships … in other words, Life 101). At the end of the semester, Black surveyed the students and their input, suggestions, and feedback was instrumental in the development of our book submittal to TEA (and may help explain why the book was approved in less than 30 days).
The submittal, which ultimately was turned into a companion guide for educators, organized the classes so that you would start at the beginning of the book and work your way through the chapters (basically what the Guinea Pigs had suggested). It sounded good on paper, but we wanted to see first-hand if it actually worked. And, although both ways worked, we believe a true "book club approach" works better.
Don't Take Our Word For It
Yes, the (Texas) State Board of Education approved the book, but we're more excited that it's student-approved. In fact, it was the sentiments expressed in the student's thank you notes (to the anonymous book donor) that had the greatest impact on us.
Want to read amazing comments from the KIPP students about the Red & Black program?
We know that some people prefer statistics over quotes (Black likes both quantitative and qualitative "evidence"), so we thought we would also include the numbers from our "non-scientific" surveys:
- "Non-Scientific" Survey Results from the Class of 2010
- "Non-Scientific" Survey Results from the Class of 2011
Starting our journey into the world of education at KIPP was an amazing experience and truly an education for us as well. We never expected this detour and never dreamed that KIPP would issue not one, but two, press releases about us!
- KIPP Takes an Unusual Approach to Developing New Financial Literacy Program Press Release (May 2010 Press Release)
- KIPP Believes Personal Financial Literacy Should Have Its Own Curriculum (September 2011 Press Release)
If you have any questions, or want additional information (including FREE educational resources), please contact us at education@RedandBlackBooks.com.
Our journey started when Black turned Red's crisis into a book – a brand – a business. The book, What I Learned About Life When My Husband Got Fired!, was intended as the basis of a sitcom – not a personal finance textbook approved by the Texas State Board of Education! But that's what happened after we were asked to develop and teach a personal finance and Life 101 course for high school seniors. (Which we found amazing as neither one of us is a teacher nor a financial expert.)
Since then, we've found more and more of our materials (whether the book, monthly columns, videos, etc.) are being used by educators and parents as instructional materials. And that was before we developed over 35 new Career and Technical Education (CTE) curricula which includes materials on "Soft Skills" (topics such as critical thinking, communications, and teamwork).
Although not part of Black's original plan (she always states that life never goes as planned), all of this work has been incredibly gratifying but also rather entertaining (at least to us), when you remember that we're two sisters who detoured into the world of education on the way to Hollywood. We guess sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. But, that doesn't make light of our strong commitment to the importance of education – whether it's Red's perspective as a mom or Black's strong opinions on the education "system." (Warning:if you get her on that soapbox, be prepared for an earful.)
This Website Is A Work-In-Progress
We've expedited the development of this website (basically on-the-fly) in order to provide our fans, supporters, and especially educators, with the information they're requesting. COVID-19 created a huge demand for online resources, as well as materials that can be accessed as basic PDFs and Word documents. As soon as the requests starting coming in, we dropped everything to create free resources (much to the chagrin of our accounts and attorneys).
We're working as quickly as possible to make our education materials available on this site. Our goal is to make this section one-stop-shopping (can you "shop" for something that is free?) for educators – ranging from middle school to adult education to workforce readiness (but we think students and parents will be interested, too) – and will cover:
- Personal Finance
- Life 101 Topics
- Career and Technical Education
- Business & Entrepreneurship
- Soft Skills
And, although this website is a work-in-progress, as always, our passion for students remains constant … but our frustration with the education "system" grows.
If you're looking for something in particular or have any questions, just contact us at education@RedandBlackBooks.com.
The coronavirus has changed everything for all of us, but the stories of the first responders and the countless heroes on the front line who are fighting this pandemic never cease to inspire us. There are also so many others who are making an incredible difference – people working in essential businesses, people who are assisting strangers, and educators who are finding new and creative ways to work with their students.
For many of us, the best thing we can do for everyone is to stay home and stay safe. Over time, this will change. However, Black isn't good at "doing nothing," so when educators reached out to us to see if we could provide online resources, she immediately said, "Yes."
We're happy to advise that the following resources are available FREE to educators and select community organizers:
- Our Bestselling Book, What I Learned About Life When My Husband Got Fired! (approved by the Texas State Board of Education as a financial literacy textbook, and the basis of over 35 Career and Technical Education curricula)
- Our Independent Book Study
- Chapter-By-Chapter Guides
- Our College and Career Readiness Curriculum
- Red & Black Animated Soft Skills Videos
Our Bestselling Book
Much to the dismay of our accountants and attorneys, we're happy to make our bestselling book, What I Learned About Life When My Husband Got Fired! (approved by the Texas State Board of Education as a financial literacy textbook, and the basis of over 35 Career and Technical Education curricula) available, chapter-by-chapter, as a FREE PDF for educational purposes. (To see the Table of Contents, click here.)
The book, which can be used on its own (it's as easy as a "book club"), is only limited by each educator's creativity and technology capabilities (we've heard about virtual classrooms, online book study groups, independent book studies, and even teaching with Twitter!).
- For a copy of the FREE PDF, contact Red at education@RedandBlackBooks.com.
Our Online Education Resources
Whether being used in conjunction with our book, or as stand-alone teaching tools and conversation starters, we're happy to offer these FREE resources:
- Independent Book Study – A simple, but effective, worksheet containing five thought-provoking questions.
- Chapter-By-Chapter Guides – The Book section from our companion guide, The Book Club Approach To Personal Finance & Life 101, provides one-page guides for each chapter of the book with each chapter broken down into three parts: (1) Questions & Topics For Discussion; (2) Financial Literacy Program; and (3) Philosophical Questions.
- To access, click here
- College And Career Readiness Curriculum – Our engaging, easily accessible, and unusual curriculum, Red & Black Approach To College And Career Readiness, works alongside our original book and provides relevant information as well as food-for-thought. In addition, it contains a separate section that focuses exclusively on soft skills.
- Red & Black Animated Soft Skill Videos – UpSkill Houston, an initiative of the Greater Houston Partnership, and Red & Black have partnered to launch a new series of short animations that demonstrate how an array of soft skills can drive success. Each episode introduces a different skill, all of which are transferable between industries, as well as with your personal life.
- To learn more about Red & Black's partnership with UpSkill Houston, click here
- To read UpSkill Houston's letter to educators and community organizations, click here
- To access the series, go to https://upskillmylife.org/softskills/
- Want to use the videos to start conversation? It's as easy as asking these two leading questions:
- How does this skill apply in your personal life?
- How does this skill apply in the workforce?
Have Questions? Need Help?
It couldn't be easier. If the resource isn't linked above, just email Red at education@RedandBlackBooks.com and let her know what you need. Before you know it, she'll get back to you with instructions on how to access the entire book and/or any additional information that you've requested. Of course, be prepared for an email that will come with a healthy dose of warm and fuzzy greetings, and appreciation for all that you're doing for students.
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|You're probably tired of hearing me say this, but I'm so excited that we're offering educators and community organizations our book and other materials as FREE online resources!|
|I bet our accountants and attorneys might not feel the same way.|
|At this point, I doubt they'd be surprised. They should be used to us putting philanthropy ahead of profits, although pre-coronavirus we were going to start focusing on a new website and new sources of revenue.|
|Well, COVID-19 changed everything – for everyone.|
||No kidding. But I'll admit that I was surprised when educators reached out to us looking for online resources, including our bestselling book, What I Learned About Life When My Husband Got Fired! It's not as if it's a bestselling textbook.|
But, it is a State Board of Education approved textbook. Although, I am more excited it is student-approved. What caught me off-guard was when they explained they needed it in a format that could be accessed on a smartphone because many of their students do not have access to computers since schools and libraries are closed.
I know. I also know they were relieved when you said you would immediately get to work on creating the resources they needed, and would also create
a new webpage so they could find everything in one place. But what left them speechless was when they asked the cost, and you said it would be FREE.
It just seemed the right thing to do. We are all in this together. We cannot make ventilators or face masks, but we can try to help educators who are looking for new and creative ways to work with their students.
||The funny thing is when we started accumulating everything in one place, I realized we already had an assortment of user-friendly resources that had been used with middle school students, high school students, and adult education learners. And they could be used for online learning or even independent study. Resources that are engaging, relevant, and interactive.|
||Stop! You are starting to sound like a textbook salesman.|
Except everything is FREE! And, as a parent, I know first-hand that teachers are struggling to find effective online resources. Over the last month, I've seen this with both Sawyer and Natasha, so it applies to high schools and colleges. Especially as online resources need to both get – and keep – their attention!
||That is a challenge even when you are in their faces.|
||True. That's where I think our newly released animated videos may help engage students of all ages. And the timing couldn't be better!|
||When we partnered with Greater Houston Partnership's UpSkill Houston initiative to create a new series of short animations on soft skills, there was no way to know that we would end up launching them in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.|
||Ok, now that they're done, I'll share a secret with you. When you first told me about the idea to have short (less than a minute) videos on "soft skills" – topics like critical thinking, communications, teamwork, etc. – I thought you were crazy. I know that when we met with Hasbro, they suggested our "sitcom characters" should be animated, and that's what we were doing. But we were supposed to be doing "fun" stories that would be of interest to "mere mortals". Not videos on "less than exciting" topics for educational, corporate, and community organization use.|
One does not preclude the other. Anyway, I had never considered a series on soft skills until I was talking with Peter Beard at UpSkill Houston about my corporate days and how we would hire for technical skills, but fire for lack of soft skills. He was aware we were working on animation and suggested the series.
||I'm not questioning the relevance of the topics. I just felt the subject matter was going to be hard to make engaging and fun.|
||Oh ye of little imagination.|
||I'll ignore that because once I started seeing the videos "come to life", I realized how great they were going to be. Especially as a "mere mortal mom" who has seen first-hand how important these skills are in everyday life. And before you say it, yes, that's because you pointed it out to me!|
||I was going to say that your character in the video is one of the reasons why I think they are so effective. The videos clearly and quickly provide the "textbook" definition of a specific soft skill and why it is valuable to employers, as well as my insight as a former corporate executive. However, you show how the skill has a "real life" application in our personal lives.|
Well, as you pointed out to me years ago, all these skills are transferable not only between industries, but with our personal lives. As a parent, these videos make such great teaching tools.
||I do not have children, but I would not refer to them as "teaching tools" … maybe conversation starters.|
Whatever you call them, when combined with our other FREE resources, I'd like to think we could help a lot of people. I just wish there was a way we could let people know about all of our new and, to me anyway, exciting material.
Which is why we are creating a new website and a strategy to use social media to build our audience. We have to ask, and hope, that people will then share the information with others.
But we have all these FREE resources now! Things that might be useful as we go into summer. How do we let people know that there are truly no strings attached? No "trial period." No hidden fees. Free means free. And that we'll do whatever we can do to help educators and students.
||You just did.|
For more information on FREE resources to educators, including getting access to our bestselling book, contact Red at education@RedandBlackBooks.com.
To learn more about Red& Black's partnership with UpSkill Houston, click here.
And, to access the Red & Black Soft Skills Series, go to UpSkillMyLife.org/softskills.