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Character Education

Book Review: "Helping Kids Who Are Good at Being Bad," by José Rosado

José Rosado, author of Being Good at Being Bad, grew up in “rat- and roach-infested” projects on the south side of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He was the son of an alcoholic father, yet his early childhood years were blissfully unconscious of the pressures his environment placed on him.

In his teenage years, he was not so fortunate. Drugs, underage drinking, school difficulties and fighting became part of his expressions of his anger. He became “good at being bad.”

Rosado was the product of a challenging environment. Fortunately, Rosado’s mother urged him to complete high school, a real accomplishment in the milieu he was living in. Another mentor took it further, urging him on to college and a B.A. in sociology with an emphasis on Criminal Justice Administration. Another mentor steered the young man into taking his anger out under the discipline of boxing, which served a therapeutic function for him.

Now José Rosado is a mentor himself to the hundreds of students he serves as the Assistant Principal of Broughal Middle School in Bethlehem. He has firm ideas on how to help kids who are good at being bad and has put his ideas into a book of that title.

Rosado names the home, school and community as the three areas that count most in the development of each individual. In this, he is directly in line with the character education movement, which declares that these three major entities in a child’s life should ideally serve as a mutually reinforcing safety net to keep kids on the right path.

On the home front, Rosado decries poverty and abuse—substance, physical and emotional—yet admits that there are no simple solutions to these social problems. His experiences as a counselor taught him that middle-class families also experience great traumas when issues like divorce come up. No one is immune to strife and struggle on the home front.

Still, he feels that people’s characters are what determine outcomes. If a family is resilient in character, with a network of support and friendship around it, then  “with pride and determination, poverty and prolonged financial hardships can be overcome and the cycle of failure can be broken.” The welfare system does not work well, he finds; it encourages people to try to game the system, and it fosters dependency. We need government programs, Rosado thinks, that promote family and education.

Grateful to have experienced the discipline of a training gym for boxers, Rosado feels boxing has been given a bad rap and is a great outlet and channel for the rage that comes out of a difficult home life and spills over into the community. Rosado founded the Bethlehem Boxing Club after “endless lobbying” of community-based organizations and elected officials for support. Such organized sports serve as outlets, therapy and constructive use of time for aggressive teenage boys. Organized sports, including boxing, help at risk young men to control their aggression

Rosado counts the culture as part of community influences, and he especially decries the “hip-hop invasion” with its encouragement of violence, sex, degradation of women, drug and alcohol abuse and other anti-social messages. He calls upon African American civil rights groups to bring more pressure to bear on the music industry and “gangsta rappers” to stop being bad character influences upon young people.

The community, of course, includes gangs, and gangs are fueled, Rosado argues, by the criminalization of drugs. Although he does not specify which drugs he is referring to, Rosado makes a case for legalization, stating that the thirty-year-long war on drugs has failed. He claims that many law enforcement experts privately agree that decriminalization would break up cartels, gangs, and even reduce usage. What is more, it would eliminate the large amounts of easy money to be made by illegal drug dealing, a temptation to kids who have always been deprived. It is hard to convince an at risk teenager to work for minimum wage when dealing drugs is so much more lucrative.

For at risk teens, minimum wage cannot compete with the easy money to be made by dealing drugs. Legalization of controlled substances, of course, is a controversial stance. The United States’ experience with Prohibition, when alcohol was illegal, is usually considered a good argument in favor of legalization of controlled substances. Prohibition is generally thought to have led to the rise of organized crime. Yet alcohol consumption has led to numerous social problems and is arguably a terrible blight.

Teen experts such as Michael Bradley, a veteran counselor of three decades, claim that alcohol (illegal for minors but highly tolerated by society, its usage often enabled by adults) is the greatest killer and destroyer of teens and should always be a primary concern when we talk about “drugs”. Legalizing alcohol has been a mixed bag at best for our society, and it has not eliminated the enormous tolls, including traffic-related and other deaths, alcohol takes on our society.*

In spite of his controversial stand on drug legalization, Rosado makes a powerful point that the real solution to teenage drug use is to focus on reducing demand through education, prevention, and treatment. The war on drugs, he claims, has focused too much on cutting off supply. “Supply,” Rosado says, “will never diminish as long as demand is viable.”

There is much to be said for the idea that drug addiction calls for treatment, help and compassion rather than incarceration and punishment. However, it must also be acknowledged that treatment and prevention are imperfect sciences. As Bradley points out, “We are seeing a growing body of research that strongly suggests that we can seriously worsen a variety of adolescent problems by treating them in therapy groups with other offenders. The effect might be like sending Sallie to druggie graduate school.”  Only if a child is heavily involved with life-threatening drugs does Bradley recommend rehab, for it often introduces new problems and does not solve the existing ones.

Rosado feels that the other major area of influence over a person’s development—school—is sometimes more a part of the problem than a part of the solution. Rosado states that schools that deal with minority youth tend to look down upon and discourage them with low expectations of performance and future success. Rosado has worked hard to connect high school youth with career and educational goals and to help them glimpse a vision of becoming productive members of society.

Being Good at Being Bad
is part autobiography and part social policy commentary. It is the story of a man who, despite severe disadvantages, managed to live out the American success story, the ingredients of which are hard work, education, and marrying and staying with the same partner for all of your adult life. Rosado would add another important ingredient: sobriety. Rosado has fought a long and difficult battle with the tendency toward alcoholism he inherited from his father. It is a testimony to his strength of character that he has won so many battles against the demons that stalked his environment.

Rosado is a living example of a person who not only climbed out of a difficult and devastating situation—he went back in to help others climb out too. His story is a good lesson in character. While the reader might not agree with all his policy positions, there is no denying that José Rosado cares passionately about helping young people live better lives. He urges them to turn away from negative influences by encouraging them, even against all odds, to live responsibly. He urges society to care enough to ameliorate some of the negative influences upon young people and to be likewise responsible to its most vulnerable members: kids who are “good at being bad.”

* Michael J. Bradley, Ed.D., Yes, Your Teen Is Crazy (WA: Harbor Press, Inc.) 2002.

NOTE: José Rosado has a website with information about his background, book, and activities at

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