Throwing away your education

March 27, 2006 | 6 comments

A Dutch politician is advocating for penalizing women who choose to stay home with children after going to college (which is paid for by the government). “You enjoy an expensive education, paid for by society, and you cannot throw away this knowledge without a penalty.” I know that KathyJo is right there with her on this — why learn anything at all if you’re not going to use it in the workforce? (I just had to throw that in after reading some of her recent posts). 🙂

What worries me is that I see this crazy mentality slipping into our own culture, slowly but surely. A friend of mine who received an expensive education at a top private university got married and became a housewife the year after she graduated. Evidently it did not go over well at all with her friends, their reactions ranging from confusion to open hostility that she would “throw away” her expensive education.

It reminds me of back when I worked at a high tech company right after college. I had a cool title and made good money for my age so I seemed to have society’s approval that I was putting my education to use. Everyone applauded the track that my life was on. But really, I did absolutely nothing to contribute to society. I worked all the time so I didn’t have much of a life outside of work, unless you count Friday happy hours with coworkers. I sat in a cubicle all day. When I wasn’t on conference calls or writing reports that nobody read or surfing the web I would occasionally write some code that would help the marketing department pull information about our company’s clients from a database. But I was putting my education to use because I had my very own cubicle…and a paycheck!

Now that I’m a housewife and mom I spend every bit of free time I can squeeze out of my day reading about Catholic theology, history, world religions and politics. I’m often called upon by my working friends to share what I’ve learned over lunch or coffee since they don’t have the time or the mental bandwidth to read those sorts of subjects themselves. If I don’t homeschool my children I will at least be very involved in their education, taking them to museums, putting together fun physics experiments and reading classic literature together. I am working on getting involved in my parish, perhaps using the writing experience I gained in college to put together some literature for them. I also run the family finances, including printing monthly budget and investment reports from Quicken to go over with my husband.

But according to a lot of people in the world, I am “throwing away” my education, unlike back in the day when I had that glamorous (*cough* *snort*) high tech job. (I ran into an old acquaintance from my working days at a wedding last year and he half-jokingly asked what it was like not to ever have to use my brain now that I’m not working.)

I hope that one of these days the people in our society will wake up and remember that the original purpose of a university education was not to get a better job. I hope that the concept of higher learning for the sake of itself, learning about the world and its people and its history just because, has not been totally lost.


  1. Jennifer

    Oh boy, Jen, did you strike a chord here!


    I’m rushing to finish my PhD so I can be a stay at home mom to my adopted daughter and I’ve had some of my best friends (all working mothers themselves, of course) say why did you even bother to do all that work?

    The REAL problem is that education, as an end to itself, has completely lost its value in Europe and even in the United States. I can say this with full confidence as a university professor–our children, their parents, and, because they are the “consumers” the adminstration and faculties of institutions of higher learning have discarded the deepest value of education–an enrichment of the person.

    So many of my students are strugglign because they want to major in liberal arts, studio art, dance, theatre, poetry, but their parents are demanding that they get “practical” degrees, in business and computer science. Many of my students end up double majoring in theatre (what they want) and business (what the world and their parents want) and they are exhausted and stretched thin.

    we long to be made smarter to expand, as you say, our mental bandwith, to explore our bliss. God placed that longing within us, men AND women.

    I despise the idea that staying at home with children is boring and that your brain turns to mush; (I can already here moms saying to themselves, “She’ll see.”)

    Am I crazy to think there is no reason to talk baby talk to your children? Am I nuts to think that I can listen to The Nutcracker Suite and Peter and the Wolf with my children and have them identify the instruments before they even get to school age?

    If you say yes–guess what–my parents did that with me and I was able to do it.

    My dad, a blue collar telephone technician from Queens, whose barroom friends called genuis, because he read Plato’s Republic in comic book form, went to college when I was born and whatever he brought home–as crazy as it sounds–he taught it to me even though I was just 3 years old (I still remember it all–impressionism, music appreciation, anatomy).

    Was I an exceptional child? Or was my father and exceptional parent.

    I say if you think being a mother makes you lose IQ points (as I’ve heard many say) you must be doing it wrong. Schooling BEGINS at birth and never ends, whether you homeschool or not.

    I KNOW you lose IQ points when pregnant by the way the hormones always gave me a brain fog–but you seem to be doing just right on.


    A thousand times Bravo. I feel like dancing for joy every time another woman decides to stay home and raise her children.

  2. SteveG

    Yes, a chord has been struck!

    My poor wife has struggled with this even with her own parents, and while they’ve been extremely generous with us overall (don’t want to be an ingrate), they’ve caused her untold pain in this area.

    My beloved has some very real artistic ability, and was encouraged by her high school art teachers to pursue a career which would incorporate the use of that talent.

    Her dad, ever the practical man, refused to pay for her education unless she got a ‘real’ degree. 4 years of arduous study of computer programming led her to a job that was unfulfilling, which didn’t suit her personality in the least, and caused her untold stress because she didn’t ‘fit in’ with the corporate, cubicle mentality.

    Then, when we had our first child, within 6 months of his birth they actually began badgering her about when she would return to work. They used the very words you use in your post….

    ‘Why are you wasting your education?’
    ‘Why did we even bother paying for you to go to school?’

    …and this badgering continued well past the birth of our second child. I suppose they figured that now that we had our roughly 2.14 children we’d be done and get back to our ‘normal’ life.

    Well, after our third child (in under 6 years), they seem to have finally figured that we are just nuts and that she’s not going back anytime soon. 🙂

    Now we are getting lectures now about making sure we don’t have anymore kids. You see, it’s been explained to us that now that we have at least one of each, there is simply no reason to continue. I guess they don’t realize that those kinds of comments have the opposite motivational effect on us than intended. 😉

    And on the notion of the lack of the traditional role of education, I’ve been thinking/feeling the same way for a long time. Colleges seem to me to be as much, if not more, trade schools nowadays as institutions of higher learning.

    I long for the days when getting a college degree meant you were educated, knew how learn and to think, and could thus succeed in whatever profession you chose. The college degree nowadays seems equivalent to a high school diploma of ages past.

  3. Jennifer

    I’d say even LESS than diplomas of ages past–I just argued with my public high school teaching acquaintance about this the other day–they cannot write or think when they come in and they can barely do so when they come out.

    That’s a whole OTHER conversation.

    SteveG: hope that you and wife continue to multiply in the order of rabbithood

    Jim and I want SIX at least.

    EVERYONE thinks we are naive at best and psycho at worst LOL.

    Wait until they see us adopt a sibling group from Africa or Guatemala (if God wills it).


  4. KathyJo

    Heh. That was a shock to see my name pop up in that particular way. 😀

    The funny thing about how much “better” educated we are these days is that the average university *graduate* does not know enough to have entered Harvard when it first opened– even the current Harvard graduates. People can talk about the high tech skills they receieved, but how many of them know where we came from, or even why we have the system of government that we have in place?

    Well, you know this is one of my buttons. 😉

    What I love, though, is that phrase “government funded.” The government has no money, folks, that they didn’t take from the taxpayers.

  5. Kaitlin @ More Like Mary

    What a great post! I finished my Master's last May and am hoping to stay home with our little one if at all possible! Thanks for affirming my desires!

  6. oscar duyor

    Thank you for the post. Very interesting.

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