Friday, January 13, 2012

My Own Education.

My sister-in-law, Monica, writes this stellar blog about educated women. She is in Utah, where statistics show that many women drop out of college. In response to that statistic, Monica interviewed several women who have degrees regarding their thoughts on their education, the statistic, and what should be done. I do love to see me some people who value education, and I count myself as such a person. But I feel like I should say something from the other side of the fence because I am in fact on the drop out side. I'm also not on the drop out side for the reasons the women with degrees guessed at, which is why I felt like I should write this. Obviously, this is one story. This is my story. It is a little long, but it's what I've got and I've got to share it.

Before I tell you about my story, I need to get some facts straight.
* I do suck at school.
* This is not why I dropped out.
* Going to college was the first time in my life I seriously thought that I could be a good mom.
* This was not some last resort option because I sucked at school.
* This is also not why I dropped out.

So here's the story:

I went to college. Straight out of high school. Because that's what you do, right? At least, that's what you did in my family. I didn't really get that there were other options. I also didn't really know what college was like. I'd envisioned people teaching and learning together because they all cared about what they were teaching/learning. I assumed that students wanted to be there or else they wouldn't pay to be there. I believed that busywork would be a thing of the past.

Then I went to college. I had no clue what I was even interested in studying. All I knew was that college was the place to be and what I'd learned in high school: the usual required classes and a pittance of electives. I picked a major based on the little that I knew. I was disillusioned to find that college wasn't much different than high school. The students often didn't care about being there, because, like me, they followed the only true formula: Go to College. Once again, I stopped caring. And started failing.

Long story short, nearly getting kicked out of college a couple times led me to ask why? In fact, failing when I was only taking 2 whole classes led me to ask all kinds of questions including the obtuse, 'why me?", the only slightly less obtuse, "what will people think?", and the actually helpful, "what's causing this?". What's causing this was ADD and a completely crappy school system, but that is different box of soap. When I started asking "why" as in "why is this happening, and what can I do to change it" I learned that someone I know had similar problems and also learned as a grown up that they had ADD. I was a little skeptical. I grew up in a time when ADD diagnoses started going through the roof and I had often thought it was more of a pretend problem than an actual issue. But I was curious. I started actually researching ADD (not just what the headlines say about it) and it sounded awfully familiar. I struggled with the fact that I sort of thought I might have something that I had, up until that point, thought was often an excuse. I struggled with what to do next. As I struggled I researched, because I needed to know about this "disorder" that I might actually have. I learned that some people consider it a gift. I learned that some people use it to their advantage. I don't mean getting out of class to go see the nurse to take your pills advantage, I'm talking working with it to develop useful skill sets. As I learned about ADD I realized that some of the skills that I have, some of the ADD ones in particular, lend themselves well to being a mom. That is when I knew that I would be a good mom someday. Not just because I have ADD, but when I let it come to the front of my mind, when I let all my career dreams slide back a little, I knew it and I felt it. I could be a good mom. My whole life I had dreamed of what I wanted to be when I grew up. In the back of my head 'mom' was floating around somewhere, but it was never top priority. I wanted to be a vet. I wanted to be a marine biologist. I wanted to run a camp for 'troubled youth'. I wanted to travel. I wanted to be a forest ranger. I never thought of being a mom seriously until that moment. But that is not why I dropped out of college. It is the biggest reason I am glad I went to college in the first place. 

Eventually I did drop out. I dropped out for several reasons. I dropped out because the more I learned about my program the more I knew that I was in the wrong place. I dropped out because I was moving to the right place educationally. I dropped out because the right place educationally wasn't as developed as I'd expected. I dropped out because when I moved to the right place geographically to be in what I thought was the right place educationally, I found myself in the right place romantically. My husband's education took our top priority, not because mine was less important, but that his as our choice bread winner was important in the long term. It took priority because I got myself a good job skill when I was looking for the right educational place and I was in a better position to be bread winner for the short term. I dropped out because eventually we found ourselves in the right place to be having kids and as a good friend of mine once said to me, "I can go back to school in 20 years, but I don't want to be having babies in 20 years from now." I know, this all covers a large span of time, but the fact is that it took me a long time for me to let go of the potential of going back to school right now. Even now, at times, it's hard, but it's right. 

 Dropping out of college was one of the hardest things for me to do. It wasn't even so much dropping out, as it was letting go of the fight to stay in. To stop petitioning for one more chance to prove I could do it. But to give up meant that I would be closing the door on my college education, likely for a long time since my grades don't lend themselves to transferring. 

Dropping out was scary. It was hard and depressing and it still is sometimes, but usually for some of the old obtuse reasons. I am writing this because I don't think it should have to be scary, hard, or depressing. I think that people (women, and men alike) should know that there are other ways to have a meaningful life. There are other ways to have a career. There are other ways to be happy, and satisfied, and there are most certainly other ways to be educated. Dropping out meant, for me, that I had time to figure out what I actually care about, and learn about it. It meant that I had time to learn what I care about in the first place instead of jumping in the first major that might maybe sort of fit the bill. It gave me time to practice learning independent of what I'm "supposed" to learn, which is a skill I really value, and enjoy. 

As hard as it was, and sometimes is, to know that I'm a college drop out, I'm glad I did. I don't think I'm less empowered, less educated, less of a mother, or less of a contributor to society for my lack of degree. I'm not saying that people who get a degree right of the bat are wrong either, but that I think more people should be aware that college isn't the only answer. It might be an answer for some. It might be an answer for me someday, but if/when it is I will be glad for having dropped out and lived before going back. I will be glad for my family who has and does help me learn to manage my ADD. I will be grateful for a better understanding of how to navigate a formal education and, more importantly, why I might want to. I will be grateful for my time as a mother that has shaped who I am and what I value. Being a mom has influenced what I want to study in ways that an education could not have shaped who I am as a mother. I am grateful to know now that I can, and am an educated person, even for my lack of a degree. 


  1. One interesting thing I've read recently is that post-industrial "women's work" (housekeeping, child raising, etc.) is sometimes seen as inferior to career work outside the home is because the former is task-oriented while the latter is time-oriented. Because the privileged class shortly after post-industrialism (men) had the time-oriented work, it became regarded as "real" or the most productive kind of work (which, duh, is wrong). It doesn't surprise me that you see momhood as being the best place for you, because I would imagine that task-oriented as opposed to time-oriented work would suit someone with ADD much better.

    1. I've considered the task-oriented aspects before, but usually with regards to individual tendencies and ADD. Thanks for the interesting perspective with regards to specific industries (at home or otherwise). I do find that being task oriented is helpful as a mother, but I also find that being easy to interrupt is invaluable. :D

  2. Love. this. So much. You are a fantastic writer, for one. And sheesh, I barely posted that thing, mere hours ago, and you come up, almost instantly, with this beautifully crafted, well-thought-out, articulate counter-point that sheds light on a different angle.

    Well done, truly. Two of my brothers had similar experiences to yours with higher education, and I think there's a large segment of truly, uniquely intelligent people for whom the system of higher education is totally inadequate. I think the more people who tell their stories, the more we can see the flaws, in the system itself as well as in our thinking about it.

    Part of the struggle, I'm learning, with this Womens' Services gig, is to focus the conversation less on things that are bad for women (violence, eating disorders,objectifying media portrayals of women--the things BYU Women's Services was created for), and focus more on how to positively overcome and/or avoid those traps that seem to be everywhere. That's why I chose to focus on education (something other than our bodies.. can we please just stop talking about our bodies already). But the truth is, whether we're talking about the sizes and shapes of women, or the ways we go about educating ourselves, there are all kinds, and I guess I'm still working on finding ways to validate women in the variety of paths we take. Thanks for being understanding. And thanks for telling your story.

    1. Thanks Monica. That is interesting that you're focus in Women's Services is to emphasize the awesome. That's what I do as a mom. :D Positive influences are always stronger than negative. Keep it up!

      Thank you for being understanding as well. I didn't want this to be an attack on your article, and it is often easy for countering views to come off that way, just by nature of their differences.

  3. Oh Kate, I absolutely loved this. I think you're dead on--there are many ways of succeeding and getting the education that we need, be it formal or informal, in order to have a meaningful and productive life. I think the most important thing in this life is to look for the opportunities the Lord places before us and learn what we can from them. I think you are an incredible woman, an incredible mother, and a wonderful friend. You are everything I think of when I think of a successful woman.

    1. Thanks Amy. I am happy to say the same of you.

    2. I don't usually go to Facebook as it completely overwhelms me, but the link to Kate's post really intrigued me. I went to college ao that I could be an educator.

      A diagnoisis of MS got in my way and I was unable to complete my student teaching. All that I learned in the educational process has stayed with me, I believe to my benefit.

      I helped my son, Monica's cousin, get his diagnosis of ADHD. Even sent his medication to him while he was on his mission.
      All that I learned in my educationaly process, like Kate, has been for my current benefit.

      Now, I am able to find ways to serve. The education I received helps me in many different ways just not in the way I had planned. (darnit)

    3. Launa, welcome! I'm glad you wound up here. Thanks for sharing your experience. I'm so glad you've been able to find ways to use what you know to help out. Knowledge really is power, no matter how you get it!

  4. I was really pleased to read this, and also a little sorry that I didn't have some of this insight while you were in high school, and instead contributed to the push for college before you got a chance to know yourself better. But that said, how can I say what might have been if your parents had done otherwise? C. S. Lewis says, via the voice of Aslan, that no one is ever told what would have happened. Perhaps nothing less than the struggle you have gone through would have brought you to this point.
    Knowing yourself is the beginning and foundation of true education. On this I have Socrates and E. F. Schumacher to back me up. If you haven't read "A Guide For The Perplexed" by the latter, I highly recommend it.
    I love reading this blog. It's reminiscent of evening walks and talks we used to have.

    1. I have often thought of that: No one know what might have been. I'm not sorry for what has happened. It was hard at times, but what would life be if not hard at times? I'm glad for what I have learned.

      I'm glad you like the blog. I miss walking with you. I'll have to look into the book. Sounds up my alley.

  5. I have a college degree, in education. Perhaps a stereotype for my generation. I didn't have much vision for what I wanted to do. I think I wanted to do some good in the world and could see a way to do it in education. I have never been employed in education. If I wanted to be employed now in education I would have to go back to school, even though I have a degree. For women who envision themselves working "not now" but "later" an unfinished degree can still be quite valuable. They would need to go back to school to complete the degree if they want to work, but so do I. The trick is that you never know what will be accepted as valid credit if you don't have the completed degree, but once a degree is completed it is all valid credit.

    I guess this situation also points out the need for continuing education, having a degree just by itself is not enough, if your goal is to be ready to work. I have a friend whose attorney daughter sends her kids to grandma for one week of the year so she can take a continuing education class and keep her standing with the bar up to snuff. Many fields have continuing education requirements and some of those requirements are difficult to meet if you are not working. In years past continuing education was hard to get to if you lived some distance from a university. Distance learning has lifted that burden to some extent.

    Having a degree has opened a few doors. I tried hard not to over play the "I'm an educator" card, but it came in handy a few times as a parent to establish myself as a peer to the teachers of my children. It helped people in the school system trust me. It didn't make me better than a mother without a degree, but it did have a few advantages.

    But.... having rambled about education and degrees I would say that the best part of my education was not related to my degree. The best part of my education were the lecture series, art exhibits, and performances I attended. The best part of my education was the interaction with fellow students who were excited about their fields of learning of the books they were reading, the expansion of my viewpoints and knowledge.I was fortunate to get to know people who were excited about learning and their enthusiasm enticed me. That "best part" is not restricted to those who completed degrees and the "best Part" can continue through life. So much is available now for the curious and seeking mind.

    1. To be fair, my goal is to be ready for anything. :D I'm not sure I am (or ever will be). Work is, without a doubt, in my future. Work for pay is another thing altogether and I suppose we'll see what happens.

      I found that college lacked the interaction with people who were excited about what they were learning, with a few exceptions. Perhaps that is part of the disappointment. I expected that, and didn't get it. College really was a lot like high school to me.

      You are right though, being curious, and willing to put in the work to learn are invaluable for a lifetime of education. I have often been comforted by that, and I have you to thank for that perspective.

  6. Kate, thank you for sharing this. The older I get, the more I am coming to appreciate the idea that "it takes all kinds." We all have different roles in life, and none of those roles is any more important or valuable than another. These types of decisions are personal, even spiritual, and we can't let society or family or friends or even statistics make them for us. I wish you the best in your future, especially if it includes more formal education. I recently started work on another degree, and there are definitely advantages to being more mature in college!

    1. Are you Brenda from the thread on Michael's facebook? If you are, you should know that I was so grateful to see you disagree! The first time I read Monica's post I hardly knew what to think. As you can see, I have a very different experience with formal education. Thank you!

      I'd love to go back to school someday, but there are so many things I'd love to do someday, I suppose I will just have to wait and see what happens. In the meantime I fully intend to carry on with my education. :D

      Also, I'm so glad to hear there are advantages! I've seldom heard anything but regret from older women in college. Usually wishing their minds were still young and malleable. I could never bring myself to believe that it was all a big battle. There had to be perks. Good luck to you!

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