I had a sad conversation a few days ago while away on a visit back to my home town. The conversation was with a late 20s woman who I found out was my third cousin, let’s call her Mary (I’ve never met her before….my family is very large so second and third cousins are beyond reach of knowing). The conversation went something like this:
Mary- “So, you are a doctor?”
Me- “Yes…but a PhD, not medical”
Mary- “What does that mean?”
Me- “I am a professor and I teach physiology, about how the body works”
Mary- “Oh, so you were in school for a long time?”
Me- “You could say that”
Mary-“I went up until grade 6, but I know everything that I need to know….I learned to read and write and anything I don’t know I can look up….”
Mary- “Besides, all of that education doesn’t really help besides giving you a really high paying job”
Me-…….. smile…..”Well, I really liked school and I have learned a lot of facts, but my graduate degree taught me how to learn…..and I guess a lot of higher paying jobs come from a University degree…but that isn’t the only reason I kept pursuing education…”
Mary-“oh, well, I don’t really see a point in all of that schooling”
It has taken me a couple of days to formulate why I was so distraught by this conversation. Its not that I think that a formal education is the only way to learn….its that I know from my own personal experience, that education provides power to those that are often side-lined in a number of cultures, women.
I am Mennonite (we are a diverse ethnic group that varies in beliefs regarding technology, education and level of exposure to the world). My parents were born in Mexico and immigrated to Canada to provide a better life for me and my siblings. School was viewed as precious and I never wanted to leave. I had cousins who chose or were not permitted to attend school beyond grade 8. My parents wanted us to have a chance to go further in our pursuits. I am SO thankful that they did this for us.
It makes me sad that education isn’t an obvious pursuit for everyone. We live in a country were post-secondary education is much more affordable and accessible to all. I am glad that I have a job that should disaster strike my home, be able to support myself and my baby. I am thankful that I am valued for more than my skills in the kitchen and that I am paid to learn, teach and challenge my brain to go beyond what I thought was possible of knowing. I think the pursuit of excellence in the home is noble, and it is not an easy job. But there is difference between choosing a job of a homemaker, and having no other choice but to be a homemaker. My mother wanted us to have that choice.
It is true, undergraduate and graduate school taught me how to think, how to evaluate information and how to search for information in the right places. I know how to learn. I’m sorry, but learning how to read and write is just one step in the process of learning how to learn. It is not enough. What is enough? I don’t know if I can quantify that, but I am glad I went beyond grade 6.