I am proud to welcome guest contributor, Carol Anderson, from Plan for Surprise, as together we tackle this article from a Catholic organization arguing against the higher education of women. Our commentary is admittedly lengthy, but worth it!
A Response from Two Catholic Women who Survived College.
Dear Raylan Alleman of Fix the Family,
Thank you for stepping up and trying to fight the death of something that our culture is very slowly killing: the family. You said it yourself, 50%+ of marriages end in divorce, leaving both parties and the children broken, wounded, and feeling abandoned. Our culture is one of death and tries to stick its head in the sand further each passing day. We share your hurt that our culture, our families, and our faith seems to be falling apart.
Please, before you read further know that we want the same thing. We want a world full of individuals and people who are passionately committed to and in love with Jesus Christ and His Church. We want hope, we want healing, and we want to see an end to this darkness. We want it so much that we both have given up a minimum of two years of a stable career and have fundraised our salaries with the conviction that Christ is the answer to our problems.
Raylan, though we may agree on those fundamental issues, we wholeheartedly disagree on the position Fix the Family has that parents should not send their daughters to college. In your September 8 blog post you stated that “the rejection [you] receive is always emotionally charged and ends up insulting.” As fellow laborers for Christ, we don’t want to do that. We hope you will indulge us, as fellow Catholics who are striving to bring about a culture of life, in our response to your article. We promise to try not to “[run] out of substance and…hurl insults.”
Here are your 6 (+2) reasons to NOT send your daughter to college followed by why we respectfully, yet wholeheartedly disagree.
1. She will attract the wrong types of men.
Carol: My initial response to this claim is simply, “So virtuous, moral men ignore college-educated women?” Of course there are lazy men out there. I’m sure everyone could probably name a few they know. But if your goal really is an ambitious, driven man with dreams, I couldn’t think of a better place to find one than at a higher education institution.
However, I would actually argue that this is all honestly beside the point. I didn’t go to college to meet men, nor do I think we should perpetuate this as the reason women go to college. Let’s put more emphasis on the fact that college education does produce “responsible, organized, [and] smart” women, just like the article states. So what if lazy men are attracted to them because they can care for people? That doesn’t mean said woman has to decide to marry him and doom herself to a future role as the primary caregiver. A woman’s education cannot be the source of blame as to why a man will not “man up” and work for his family. There are obviously deeper issues at work in the whole scenario of a lazy husband—it’s not simply because he has an educated wife.
Michelle: I am reminded of a quote that a very wise Missionary gave to my Bible Study my junior year of college:
“To a great extent the level of any civilization is the level of its womanhood. When a man loves a woman, he has to become worthy of her. The higher her virtue, the more noble her character, the more devoted she is to truth, justice, goodness, the more a man has to aspire to be worthy of her. The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women.”
- Fulton Sheen, Life is Worth Living
You speak of how there are many lazy men and how women marry them and allow their husbands to become dependent on them. This may be true, but do we not lower our standards for the desire to be loved? I remember a very wounded time in my college career when I made impulsive decisions because I just wanted to be loved and to experience love.
But here’s the thing, no matter what, I will not ever be fulfilled by a man. Even if he is a perfect and model Catholic. The only man whose love will ever fulfill me is Jesus Christ. In order to attract a man who is good and, as Fulton Sheen says, worthy of me, I must attach and conform myself to Christ. The higher I hold myself, the more I am able to see my dignity and worth, the more likely I am to find a man worthy of my love. This principle remains true whether I am in high school, a college student, or a single woman in the world.
2. She will be in a near occasion of sin.
Michelle: “You have a heavy concentration of young people all living together without the supervision of parents at the most sexually charged state of life they will experience.” Yes. This is true. Yet, I have to flip this question around: What about the men? At college, they too are living in this “heavy concentration of young people” and therefore are also being tempted at every moment. If it is not okay for our young women to be in this situation, why is okay for our young men to be in this situation?
Jesus told us to “go therefore and make disciples of ALL nations.” This includes the darkest places in the world – the college campus. We cannot simply pull ourselves away from this culture because it is uncomfortable or too worldly or too hard. We must continue into battle and bring the light of Christ onto the campus. We must find (or build) a community that can support us in our faith and help us to grow (that’s what Newman Centers are for!), and then we must go out.
You ask, “is it prudent to willingly put oneself there?” But let’s look at what Jesus did…He put himself in the midst of sinners and tax collectors and prostitutes. Jesus ate and drank with those who were so lost and shunned by this world. He put Himself in situations where He could have been in a near occasion of sin. Yes, He was perfect and therefore would not fall, but He calls us to follow Him and do the same. If we remove our young Catholic women from the college campus, who will be there to witness to the other women? You can’t say men. There is a depth and beauty to female friendships that allows for true openness to Christ that would be lost if we did not send our Catholic women to college.
We must be willing to get uncomfortable and put ourselves out there for the sake of the gospel.
Carol: I found this point particularly degrading. Are women really so weak that we cannot possibly be expected to handle the temptations of college? How could “anyone expect” us to? I know a good number of women who are in fact proud of the decisions they made in college. I’m not the most holy person —so, seriously, if I can make it through without any huge regrets, I really think a lot of women stand a good chance. And allow me to share a secret; my free will is in fact my free will. At 18, 19, or 20 years old, a woman is going to exercise that will independently—whether she is at home or in a dorm room.
There is no need to lock your daughters away until they are married. Support the women in your life. Build up their self-worth and empower them to grow in virtue. I do know plenty of women who have fallen, some deeply, into sins in college, and self-identity is at the core. So be loving, supportive, disciplinarians and help your daughters learn this before they leave the nest.
3. She will not learn to be a wife and a mother
Carol: Now this point contradicts the first. Point one stated that “lazy men who are looking for a mother figure in a wife” are attracted to these responsible, college-educated women. So are they or aren’t they mother figures?
Living on one’s own is a major step in learning how to handle all that life can throw, and there are basic domestic skills that are learned in college out of necessity. College does not mean domestic skills are neglected. I am a master with my laundry, I bake, I knit, I am at my most creative when I am experimenting in the kitchen. You can foster these skills and earn a degree at the same time.
It is not just the lifestyle that has the potential to gear towards domesticity. What we learn in college could actually prepare a woman to better manage a household—Baking is chemistry. Caring for the sick and bringing life into the world is biology. Household budgeting, family financial planning, and investments are all finance. Teaching your children is education.
Michelle: I majored in psychology, so maybe my response is biased. Here is a list of courses I took over my four years at Drake that will 100% for sure help me be a mother and run a household one day.
- Introduction to Psychology
- Understanding Emotions
- Information Systems
- World History
- Social Psychology
- Abnormal Psychology
- Introduction to Management
- Child Development
- Psychological Assessment
- Adolescent Literature
- Personal Finance
- Leadership and Personal Development
- Research with a professor on self-compassion
- Psychology of Aggression
Maybe I didn’t learn how to cook a gourmet meal or clean a house, but do you know what I did learn? I learned how to write. I learned how to analyze an article, a book, a movie, a blog post, and put it up against what I know to be True and critically analyze it. I learned to make decisions for myself. I learned to compromise with others, how to communicate, and how to analytically solve a problem. I learned how to be informed and how to make a difference in this world.
My liberal arts education helped me become an intelligent, independent thinking woman who can process, analyze, and address the world around her. As a mother, all of these skills I gained from my education will help me to raise intelligent children who can also make decisions, think for themselves, and influence the world around them. My children, my relationship with my husband, and my family will all be better and stronger because of my Drake education.
4. The cost of a degree is becoming more difficult to recoup.
Carol: Yes, yes it is. I have student loan debt, as does my fiance. And whether I continue in my career or choose to stay at home, the years of experiences, knowledge, friendships, and struggles will have all been worth those payments. Always. I chose to attend a more expensive school than I needed to; I was searching for quality educational programs, hands-on learning experience, and top extracurricular activities. I went into my education knowing that I may want a fast-paced career, or that I may want to stay at home; there was nothing that I did not consider when making that decision. I do not regret all that my education has brought me, in spite of my loans.
Michelle: Yes. This is true. However, I would argue that you can be equally frugal if both husband and wife are paying off loans. It’s about being smart, planning, and being willing to compromise. Read Dave Ramsey.
5. You don’t have to prove anything to the world.
Michelle: Christ calls us all in so many different ways. Yes, some women and men may not be called to college. However, we need holy lay people of both genders in all professions if we are to convert the world (which Jesus told us to do)!
One of my favorite saints is St. Gianna Mola. St. Gianna was everything that a Catholic mother should be: intelligent, loving, devoted to her family and to Christ. She eventually sacrificed her life for the sake of her child. And here’s the kicker: St. Gianna was a working doctor. Not only did she go to college, she went on to med school! She is an excellent example of a female lay woman who changed the world with her college education. St. Gianna is a rare saint: she is a lay person. We need more lay saints. We need more examples of how we can be in this world but not of it, of how we can be educated women who are making a huge difference in this world.
Helen Alvare is another example of one of my favorite educated women. She spoke at SEEK this past year and holy cow was she an inspiration to me. Helen is a professor of law at George Mason University, the editor of Women Speak for Themselves, an attorney and consultant for the USCCB, a wife, and a mother. Helen spoke to us on what it truly meant to be successful and on things like the HHS Mandate and the pill. I could go on and on about her and this topic for hours, but I won’t (maybe a future post!?).
For other holy, educated, Catholic women, check out Colleen Carroll Campbell, Dorothy Day, Flannery O’Conner, and St Edith Stien.
Carol: No, you do not have to prove anything to world. But you may want to prove something to yourself. You may want a challenge, an adventure, an exciting experience. But with “society being so fixated with the feminist idea of women having to have a job and provide an income to have worth,” it is actually a good idea to examine the motivations. Why do we want to go to college? What the Fix the Family article refers to much in this section is taking so much pride in one’s collegiate choice, and placing one’s worth there, it is a good idea to try to keep focused on the real educational goals.
But no, it is not a harmful thing for a woman to be working. What if she doesn’t get married? She will need to find some means of providing for herself. And I for one am glad that I have been at least somewhat supporting myself with jobs since high school. It keeps me from waiting around for someone to please take care of me. Too many Catholics today veer away from the term feminism. But feminism is like anything else—the virtue is in the middle. We cannot be so extreme as to say that women have no place in the world other than in a domestic role, but we can also not go so far as to reject our intrinsic nature and dignity by shoving our feminine qualities out the window. Bl. Pope John Paul II writes in his letter to women, Specifically to women who work, that they are an “indispensable contribution to the growth of a culture which unites reason and feeling” (Letter to Women, para. 2). There is happy medium where you can both be feminine and professionally successful.
6. It could be a near occasion of sin for the parents.
Carol: You would choose not to allow your daughter to attend college for your own sake? Parents do not have to be financially involved if they so choose, but parents cannot stop an 18 year old from attaining a higher education.
Michelle: When your child becomes an adult at 18 years old, you are no longer legally responsible for them. From the Church’s perspective, they are past the age of reason, they are confirmed, and they are adults in the Church. It is their choice whether or not to go to college.
7. She will regret it.
Michelle: She might also regret not going to college. However, just because you possess a degree does not mean you have to have a career. You have spoken a lot about being “trapped” by a degree, but we are called to true, deep freedom in Christ. Freedom is not about being able to do what you want, when you want. Rather, it is about knowing Jesus and what He wants for you, followed by the ability to respond to that call. If you know Jesus, you have the freedom to leave a career to respond to a call to exclusively raise a family. If you’re really responding to God’s will, you won’t regret the positive experiences you’ve gained from pursuing a college education and a career.
Carol: I am sure there are women who do regret their time in college. My guess is this is mainly because of the choices they made. It is difficult to imagine a woman who worked hard in college, learned a substantial amount, bettered herself, and then replied, “I really wish I hadn’t have done that”! When you go to college to learn and study what is interesting specifically to you, there is very little regret because you grow in ways in which you can be proud.
As far as restricting childbearing years, I for one am quite thankful I did not settle down and have a child at 21. Looking back I can easily say I was not emotionally or intellectually mature enough to do so.
8. It could interfere with a religious vocation.
Carol: I know several women who have found their religious vocations after college, and time at the university is actually what got them there. I have seen some of these same women pay off large amounts of debt in a timely fashion in order to enter. My roommate aids women who wish to enter with a religious order in organizing fundraising techniques to pay off their debt. In doing so, these women gain a powerful prayer network, sometimes of strangers, that helps provide significant support in the rest of their vocational journey.
Michelle: Like Carol, I know many women who have been called to the religious life and who have had student loans. There are many beautiful organizations that give grants and forgive loans so that women may follow the call of the Lord and enter the convent. If the Lord calls, He will make it possible.
Personally, college allowed me a freedom to discern my vocation that would not have been possible if I had not gone. Through campus missionaries, a mission trip, and my Newman Center I encountered so many different beautiful religious sisters who inspired me to draw close to Jesus in all aspects of my life. If I had not gone to Drake, I don’t know if I would have ever truly encountered religious, and therefore I would not have been open to the possibility of a religious vocation. We must also remember that there are orders that do not accept women without a college degree.
Carol: Thinking that the choice to attend college is black and white issue is not taking the entire paradigm into consideration. It will be right for some women, and for others it will not, for a variety of reasons. But no woman should ever be told that she frankly should not attend college because of her gender. When we enclose virtuous women in a bubble, what happens to everyone else? Who is there to witness to the world the beauty of true womanhood and encourage fellow women in their dignity?
I recently heard an interesting take on our Mother. Mary is often times depicted crushing a snake--with her bare feet! What a boldness! We are called to be the kind of women that stomp out the sin in this world--women who do not look away from the evil we see, but who name it and defeat it. Being a modern, Catholic women leaves no room for timidity. It is time to be strong. It is time for us to show the world what beauty and virtue truly look like--in all forms. The world, the college campus, is in more turmoil than ever before, and backing away does not solve that problem. We need a center, in Jesus Christ and His Church, that continually builds us in virtue. But as women in particular, we have a gift to nurture. And this hurting, broken world needs us to exercise that gift now in all ways possible. So women, if you choose to go to college, then learn, grow, become a better person because of it, and let the world know that Catholic women are force to with which to be reckoned.
Michelle: It seems to me a lot of these reasons come from a place of fear. We fear how we could be living with regret, have too much debt, get into a bad relationship, etc. Yet as Christians, we are called out of this fear! We can rejoice because Christ has won and He is victorious over death. He has redeemed all things.
I look back to the girl I was at 18 and compare her to the woman I am now and I see so much growth. It's only been 5 years, but your twenties are what we call the "critical decade." The decisions you make at this point of life will shape the outcome of the rest of your life. The college campus is a place where young women can go to find themselves, have their minds be formed more fully, and figure out who they are and what they want to be. Yes, it is a dangerous place, but we cannot let fear of sin, fear of debt, or fear of getting stuck keep us from this place that provides so much opportunity for empowerment and growth.