Wasting an Education

Over the course of my life, various men have snorted with derision at my plans to attend college and graduate school. Generally, the reason cited is “Women don’t need education to cook and make babies, so college is wasted on them.”

I have experienced various levels of crudity in these remarks, and I’m pretty adept at shrugging them off. I’ve been consistently ignoring these sage words since I was twelve years old. What REALLY pisses me off is when various men tell my brainy and talented little sister, or my smart and witty younger cousins that they are not deserving of education because of their sex. Or in fact, that they are a waste of education because of their gender.

You’ll have to indulge me when I call BULLSHIT on those claims.

There’s already a substantial gap in higher education attainment between men and women in Utah. Fewer Utah women enroll in college than our peers around the nation. And more Utah women drop out of college, failing to graduate, making us the last in the nation in that respect. (If you’d like to learn more about this topic, Dr. Susan Madsen of Utah Valley University led a recent task force on this topic.) Why the heck would anyone want to exacerbate the issue by discouraging women from pursuing college in the first place?

I’m proud to say that my little sister is a college graduate, and blessedly more intelligent than the various men who have told her she’s not worth educating. And the difference she makes in the lives of at-risk children with whom she works is proof of her achievement to all of those who have tried to tear her down. The ridiculous part of this whole assumption is that she should have to prove her worth at all! Anyone with the desire to learn is not a waste of education. I would, in fact, argue that there is no instance where education is wasted; there is always some benefit derived from the process and the experience.

I have a cousin who is in high school, and she is a precocious student and a gifted writer. Let’s call her Zoe. She’s mature beyond her years and she wants to take advantage of the amazing concurrent enrollment opportunities available in Utah. This program would make it possible for Zoe to earn an associates degree (practically for free) during her junior and senior years of high school. She’s been told by some of the men in her life that she isn’t worth this education because “you don’t need to go to college to cook and have babies.”

Again – I must call bullshit on this assumption. I find it appalling that the people to whom Zoe should be able to look at as role models and supporters believe that educated women aren’t useful. The impact that an educated mother has on a child’s life is profound, not to mention the opportunities that Zoe will have in terms of economic mobility and self-reliance that are more likely to come with higher education. I don’t assume that a college degree is an automatic golden ticket to a job with a fat paycheck and great benefits, but it is a key to an otherwise tightly locked door. By the year 2018, economists predict that two-thirds of jobs in Utah will require some type of postsecondary credential – you can learn more this research & the corresponding initiatives here. To exclude women from those jobs would be economically and culturally devastating. And although it’s not a popular or practical opinion, education is a personally enriching and amazing experience, and that is NEVER a waste. (Side note: last week I stumbled across this story about Gac Filipaj, who graduated from Columbia University this year. It’s pretty inspiring. My favorite quote from this article is Mr. Filipaj stating that “The richness is in me, in my heart and in my head, not in my pockets.” What an incredible perspective.)

So, for the love of all things holy, if you ever hear someone telling a girl or a woman that she isn’t worth educating, send her the link to this blog post. Or better yet, look her straight in the eye and tell her, “Don’t listen to that baloney. If you want an education, you go get it, and I will be sure to help you reach your goals.” Tell your daughters, your nieces and cousins, your sisters, aunts, girlfriends, and mothers – YOU ARE WORTH AN EDUCATION, and so much more!

You know what I always tell the naysayers, as I’m preparing to start a PhD program? “I’m so glad to have the opportunity to waste so much education!” And then I smile.

– to all the people who supported & still are supporting me,
Sumiko

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3 Comments

  1. Melisa

     /  June 3, 2012

    Once again, you have hit the nail on the head. Directly.

    The culture in Utah is very much centered towards encouraging girls academically through high school, and then letting them dip their little toe into the waters of college so they can get their M.R.S. degree. I never felt any expectation from teachers, family members, or the community in general to get a degree. I am one of about 4 people in my extended family to receive a full 4 year degree. I am the only one (I think?) pursuing a Master’s degree.

    It’s a conflicting interest for me, this topic. Because on the one hand, I am the woman who dropped out of school because she started a family (albeit a bit unexpectedly! lol). With 15 credits left, I walked away from a full scholarship to raise my little guy. I never felt like I was wasting my education, and I did not feel one bit ashamed if I never stepped foot in an academic institution again. To me at that time, a degree was just a piece of paper saying that I had completed x amount of credits. Just because I was 15 credits short didn’t mean that I hadn’t learned just as much as the person who had completed 15 credits more than me and walked in commencement. I also didn’t feel guilty that I walked away from all of it to take care of my little guy.

    It wasn’t until we were unable to get pregnant again that I decided to go back to school. I’m so glad that I did! I’m so glad that my husband didn’t think it was a waste of time or resources! It has always been our intention that my degree is simply for my own edification. To say that I did it, to fulfill a need to finish what I started, to accomplish something hard, and to say “I have a degree”. However, it has turned into something so much more. I am looking differently at the world around me, and understanding things more deeply. I took a 100 level US history class last semester, and I’m taking a political science class over the summer for a pre req. It’s amazing how I see the influence of both in the world today. I feel that I understand issues so much better, I can make educated decisions about voting, I can create and form my beliefs better.

    More than all of this, I can teach my son better. I have been able to be more insightful about how I teach my son about things. Learning from the past, I have been able to teach him that we are all the same, no matter our color or where we were born. I have been able to teach him not to hurt others, to laugh and enjoy life, and to appreciate the freedoms we experience because it hasn’t always been this way. Most recently, we took my little guy (who is 5) to an Armed Service parade. There were many flags that were carried by brave men and women, and we stood up each time and put our hand across our heart. I talked to him about the men and women who protect our country. I talk about those who have fought in wars to protect us and our freedoms. Near the end of the parade, it’s a tradition that there are individual banners with photos of those who have died in service in Iraq, which are carried by the loved ones of those who have died. We paused and raised our hand to our heart, and I told my little boy what great sacrifice these men and women gave to us. I took this opportunity to teach my little boy (on his level) all about the things that I had learned in my college courses, mixed with the emotions and beliefs I have experienced because of the things I know. It also helps when my son asks me why the sky is blue, and I can tell him it’s because of reflected light in the atmosphere. 🙂

    I’ve taken a lot of classes about children, parenting, and social work. It is proven that those who have the most impact on children are in fact their mothers. Mothers have the most interaction with their children, and are the true teachers of them. Children gain much of their political ideas from socialization from their family and parents. It is important to have educated women. It’s important to have educated women for girls to look up to. It’s important to have women influencing political policy, education policy, business, and all of the spheres of influence in society.

    I’m glad there are women like you helping in education Sumiko! You are fantastic! (Melisa Miller-Kincart is also a fabulous women I totally look up to.)

    Reply
    • Melisa! Once again, your thoughtfulness shines through. I love hearing these stories from women, and I am SO glad that you have had the opportunities you have to go to school (and the freedom to make that choice for yourself). I am a big fan of letting all women have equal opportunities to make these decisions for themselves and their families. My mother left college when she had me, and it took her many years to go back and complete her degree, but I know that the education she had as a young woman helped her to raise my siblings and me the way she did. The influence of mothers cannot be underestimated. Thank you so much for your comment. I love these online conversations! You are awesome!

      Reply
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