Saturday, August 24, 2013

Wouldn't you rather have a smart mom?

First, you should read this article, O, Alma Mater, by Anne-Marie Maginnis for Verily Magazine, because it is a great read and reflects much of how I feel about my own education and its value in my life, not despite the fact that I'm a stay-at-home mom and raise little people for the foreseeable future, but because that's what I am.

Maginnis' article is a response to this one by the Guardian's Keli Goff.  In it, Goff explains that motherhood does not require an elite degree, like one from Harvard or Yale. She concludes with,
The next frontier of the admissions should revolve around asking people to declare what they actually plan to do with their degrees. There's nothing wrong with someone saying that her dream is to become a full-time mother by 30. That is an admirable goal. What is not admirable is for her to take a slot at Yale Law School that could have gone to a young woman whose dream is to be in the Senate by age 40 and in the White House by age 50.
Clearly here, Goff is trying not to offend those who choose to be mothers, but what she seems to be saying is that being a full-time mother is not inherently as valuable to society as getting into politics or any other "elite" job out there.

I don't have an elite degree from Yale or Harvard. I attended a well-reputed college journalism program in western Canada. While I was there, my college became a university and I choose to obtain a Bachelor of Communications degree, instead of an applied degree, which would have taken less time, and cost less money.

At the time that I started my degree, I thought, "This degree will qualify me to do the job I want." It was simply a means to an end: to get a better job than I'd have without post-secondary.  Getting married and being a mother was at the time, a long way off.  If the admissions office had asked me what I planned to do with my degree, I'd have given the cookie-cutter answer: "To be a journalist, of course!"

But during the summer before my second year, I began dating a young carpenter from my hometown, and I began to envision a different life.  The life I'd filed away as wife and mother because, quite frankly, when I began my journalism degree, the only man I'd been semi-interested in went to the seminary.  There were no other current prospects. So I stopped looking, figuring if God wanted me to get married - He'd put somebody there.  (Advice to young women who are pining for husbands... Stop looking. Stop worrying about it. Not only will you stress less, and focus more on being a better person, but something might actually happen.)

I love what Maginnis has to say about the choice of women to stay home and the value of a degree to the women in question:
If a woman at home doesn’t need an elite degree, as Goff argues, one wonders, does she need a college degree? A high-school degree? At what point is a woman not worth educating at all?
This perspective completely disregards the inherent worthiness of educating a human mind to know the world, to think independently, to judge accurately, and to live confidently. For these reasons alone, an elite education should be available to the best and brightest minds. To concede Goff’s point would be to reverse hundreds of years of progress in women’s rights.
Yesterday, a friend and I chatted about the disappointment I perceive when people ask me, "Now that you've finished your degree, what are you going to do?" and I say, "Have another baby," jokingly.  It is the truth though... I'm 5 months pregnant. It's the future.

What I don't tell them (unless they ask) is that I've written part of a children's book, that I read the news and constantly critique the story style, writing, and whether or not the journalist was diligent in answering all the pertinent questions, and that I am constantly formulating plans in my head for articles I'd write if I would just get myself organized and put my resume and writing samples out there for some publications to peruse.  I also think about my husband's company and how I could use my communication skills to advance his public image and give him an online presence and develop a photographed portfolio.

Why don't I say all this? Because my role as wife and mom is at the top of my priorities.  My friend's words were that the perceived disappointment is because I'm "not using my degree." And clearly, that's the perception I put on a proverbial platter for people when I say "have another baby."  Yes, I'm not using my degree to make money. I'm not using my degree in the conventional sense.  I'm not in the workforce, and, as Goff says, spending my "entire life using it to advance the cause of women -- or others in need of advancement."

The value of education became clearer to me as I worked to obtain my degree while I had my two boys, all the while asking myself, "Why am I doing this? What am I working for?"  I realized that what I was doing was more to me than "getting a good job."  I realized that it had helped me to think more clearly, to look at the world in a different way and to try to understand the perspectives of others.  It has helped me to become solid in my values by having to wrestle with them, and explain them in a way that makes sense to the people who challenge them.  I realized that education, when embraced - be it in a university setting, or learning any kind of skill, is infinitely valuable to a person's development.

Marriage and motherhood gave me a different way of approaching the classroom, and the classroom gave me a different way to approach this life I am trying to build. The two things, because they happened simultaneously are integral to the person I am today. Even if I never see a cent because I am now qualified to "get a better job," I have invested in myself, my development, and in turn, the way that my children will be raised.

In my eyes, raising children is very important.  I don't currently have time to write a thesis on whether or not children who grow up with university-educated mothers who choose to stay home with them grow up to be axe-murderers or terrorists.  However, I believe that I'm doing my little guys a world of good by staying home with them and fostering their growth and development.  It also may be looked on as selfish, for various reasons - making my husband bear the financial burden of the family, for one.  But I believe that life as "just a mom," is far from "throwing away" that degree I worked hard to obtain.  It is using it for the benefit of what I value most - my family.

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