June 2005


I’ve been thinking about this today. Really, what does ‘Celebrating Formal Education in the Life of a Christian Girl” mean? What is it that we are celebrating?

College is more than books, papers, and exams. It is more than sitting (or sleeping) through classes and regurgitating the proper information in order to get the proper grade and the proper piece of paper at the end. College is more than something that has to be done in order to make more money, or have a successful career, or be well-educated. It is much more.

In College, I learned how to turn the hall of my wing in the dorm into a slip-n-slide at 2 AM on a Saturday night. Was that a silly, immature thing to do? Sure. But it taught me the importance of fellowship, laughter, and good friends. In College, I learned that the arrangement of dorm furniture is an exact science. And it taught me persistence, determination, and the benefits of brute strength. In College, I learned that sometimes relationships end and that’s okay. It taught me the importance of grace, trust in God, and being true to myself. In College, I learned that I can’t control the actions or emotions of other people. It taught me to be gracious, gentle, and sensitive. In College, I learned that sometimes bad things happen to good people. And it taught me the amazing power of prayer.

So I celebrate formal education in the life of a Christian girl. My formal education was a time of learning – academically, spiritually, emotionally, and realistically.

It seems to me that possibly one of the reasons that people don’t want women to go to college is that it is assumed that women will no longer be interested in being wives and raising children and overseeing the running of households once they have tasted of life outside of the walls of their house.

This is nonsense. Every one, whether a man or a woman, has seasons of life. We begin as children who are in the season of learning and studying, we grow into adulthood and continue learning things, but with more specific goals in mind. When we marry, we have new responsibilities, especially to our husbands. As mothers, we have children who must be put first and nurtured and cared for, setting aside our own personal enrichment goals. Then, as the children grow older, we have more opportunites to seek out our own interests. This is part of God’s plan. If children were to be abandoned or raised by caregivers or fathers, moms wouldn’t be the ones with the breasts. And if we were not to think and study and contribute to our world, especially as Christians, we wouldn’t have brains.

To me, it is all a matter of looking at our lives in seasons and reveling in each season as it comes along. Just because a woman has many interests and loves to learn and study does not mean that she does not value all the stages and seasons of her life and will enjoy a home and family.

Isn’t it interesting that in God’s perfect plan, women reach a time when they are no longer able to physically bear and nurse children? Did he intend for women to dry up and blow away then? No! It then becomes the season when you can delight in being an older woman!

An older homeschooling mother told me that she has, for several decades now, kept a part of her week to pursue things that she enjoys, to study and learn things just for her own experience, believing that she is a better wife and mother because of that. I, too, have tried to do that and would agree that I am a much more interesting person because of it.

That is exactly the point of this blog, in my humble opinion. Placing women into categories where they are not supposed to better themselves educationally harms every member of the family, every member of the body of Christ. Defining roles and training and “girl” and “boy” goes beyond what the Scriptures teach.

As a WIT, woman in transition, each year moving out of the “stay at home mom stage” of life and into the “I am grandmama and I have learned a thing or two by gum” stage, let me say that I have seen college, I have loved being down on the farm, and now look forward to the days when I can do both.

From Man Cannot Speak for Her:

“The concept of ‘true womanhood,’ or the ‘woman belle ideal,’ defined females as ‘other,’ as suited only for a limited repertoire of gender-based roles, and as the repository of cherished but commercially useless spiritual and human values. These attitudes rose in response to the urbanization and industrialization of the nineteenth century, which separated home and work. As the cult of domesticity was codified in the United States in the early part of the century, two distinct subcultures emerged. Man’s place was the world outside the home, the public realm of politics and finance; man’s nature was thought to be lustful, amoral, competitive, and ambitious. Woman’s place was the home, a haven from amoral capitalism and dirty politics, where ‘the heart was,’ where the spiritual and emotional needs of husband and children were met by a ‘ministering angel.’ Woman’s nature was pure, pious, domestic, and submissive. She was to remain entirely in the private sphere of the home, eschewing any appearance of individuality, leadership, or aggressiveness. Her purity depended on her domesticity; the woman who was compelled by economic need or slavery to work away from her own hearth was tainted. However, women’s alleged moral superiority generated a conflict out of which the woman’s rights movement emerged.

As defined, woman’s role contained a contradiction that became apparent as women responded to what they saw as great moral wrongs. Despite their allegedly greater moral sensitivity, women were censured for their efforts against the evils of prostitution and slavery.”

On February 17, 1905, a new memorial was placed in Washington D. C.’s Statuary Hall in the Capitol to represent the citizens of Illinois. Every state preceding this time had chosen one of their sons. Illinois, however, was the first and the only to honor one of its daughters. Pictured standing next to a pulpit as if about to preach, Frances Willard*teacher, college president, first Dean of Women at Northwestern University, temperance activist*was easily recognized at her death as the one of the most influential women in the world.

She became the first woman President of the Evanston College for Ladies and defined it as “the paradise of women” with women “for the first time, recognized and proved as the peers of men in administrative power”(Willard, Glimpses 199). She instituted co-educational literary societies with Northwestern University in order to “break down prejudice against women’s public speech and work. . .[and to] refine the young men and develop intellectual power in girls”(Willard, Glimpses 207). She established complete self-government: “Our Self-governed do as they please, have all the privileges of teachers, subject only to general order of exercises, such as go to bed at 9:30, to rise at 6:45,” and, of course, mandatory church attendance (Willard, Glimpses 215).

In June, 1872, Evanston College had its first and only Commencement. The Chicago Fire eight months earlier ruined any hopes for future financial help from local business interests. Therefore, the Evanston College for Ladies became part of Northwestern University with the Evanston faculty still in complete charge of their students (Willard, Glimpses 227). Miss Willard became Professor of Aesthetics and the first Dean of Women teaching Freshman Rhetoric and Composition (Willard, Glimpses 229-30).

Isn’t it interesting that this moral Christian lady saw education for women as a way to refine men? What happens when we leave the educational system then?

Okay – are there different reasons for a boy to attend college than for a girl? Do other people think so? Should there be different reasons? I don’t know that my parents ever told me that there were different reasons for Steve than for me? ::shrug:: Will I tell my son different things than I’ll tell my (Lord willing) daughter? Everybody jokes about the MRS degree. We all giggle at those Becky-Home-Eckies taking Greek among all those potential preacher-boy husbands and making sure their piano skills are in order. ::scratching my head::

The first thing I learned in College is that knowing exactly where you’re going and what you’re going to do when you get there is highly overrated.

I walked onto campus fresh out of high school (a year early) knowing exactly what my major was, what classes I needed to take, and what road I needed to take to get where I was going. I didn’t take college seriously as an education, an experience, or a way to better myself. It was just an extension of high school. It was what was expected of me, so I was there.

As time passed I realized that I did not, in fact, know everything about everything. I didn’t even really know myself. I started paying attention to the college experience – the classes, dorm life, campus activities, and everything I could absorb. Slowly, I learned that ambition isn’t everything. Having every detail of the future already planned is no fun, as it allows for no spontanaeity.

College is about the here and now, not just about the end result and the where you are going. So is life. I’m still unsure about what “career path” I want to take. Until I figure it out, I’m going to continue busying myself with absorbing and learning from the right now.

There was an Italian cafe across the street from campus my freshman year. The building that housed this little cafe was eerily jinxed, maybe even haunted, or perhaps owned by people who would deny the importance of a college education. It was there that I learned my first college-days lesson, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

Restauranteurs were like transient phantoms in that building. As soon as a restaurant would apply for a liquor license, my alma mater and a brood of other concerned citizens would protest (seeing as how it was illegal in our town for a restaurant to sell alcohol a mere bottle’s toss away from a school where minors roamed). Regardless of whether the city granted, withheld, or revoked such a license, the neighborhood consumers would stop consuming — whether a Mexican place or a deli or a ritzy steak joint, no restaurant could turn a profit after taking the suicidal liquor-license-application step.

Disregarding the historical tradition, new owners would invariably feel compelled to file for a license, apparently believing a liquor license would reap for them more positive returns than the negative effects of the lost across-the-street business. They were always wrong. By the time I left school, nearly 8 years later, I didn’t even know what restaurant was currently occupying the building — maybe they even tore it down? — because I had become so accustomed to ruling it out as a possible place to eat.

My freshman year, however, the occupants were Italian chefs, jovially cranking out affordable pasta and hot Italian subs or pizza on plastic plates, all Fazoli’s-like. An acquaintance from class or the dorms took me over there with a group of upperclassmen. A guy at another table was a graduating senior whom I knew from my hometown. I think it’s a pity, in a way, that he could’ve gone ahead and taught me this lesson when we were growing up together, but here on out he will bask in fame, having taught me the first real useful thing I remember learning at college. (I still count it as “college,” even though we were indeed a bottle’s toss off campus at the time.)

Pay attention, ladies, for I think I may say this only once. I own verbal rights to pass the legacy on to my children, but I’ve never investigated the royalties for publishing information of this nature via the blog venue. I have refrained for three years on my own blog, and I feel that now must be the perfect time and platform to flash the worldwide web with wisdom.

The how-to is easy, and the honing-to-perfection is pretty much a snap, as well.

1. Take a plastic straw,
2. Insert it into your [pop] (or “coke,” if you attend college in the South, “soda” if in some parts of Illinois and Minnesota, etc.),
3. Suck up a strawful of [pop],
4. Place your tongue at the top (thereby to hold said [pop] at the same level),
5. Raise the strawful of [pop] an inch or two above the level of the rest of the [pop] in your glass (but do not remove the straw entirely out of the glass nor away from the glass),
6. Pinch the bottom of the straw, closed firmly between two fingers,
7. Remove your tongue as the vacuum cap (the [pop] will remain in the straw now because of your pinching at the foot of it),
8. Take a deep breath,
9. Blow slowly but steadily across the top of the straw, WHILST
10. Simultaneously, and equally as slowly-and-steadily, loosening your pinch at the foot of the straw,
11. Allow the [pop] to escape slowly and steadily out the bottom of the straw and into your glass, WHILST
12. Still blowing, you will hear a hollow whistle whose sound will gradually lower in pitch as more air appears in your straw and less [pop] clogs it.

When rightly executed, you’ll find this no-mess talent has the potential to entertain fellow diners and spur tabletalk from friends or complete strangers for half-hours on end!

A childish prank? Perhaps. Or maybe something more. I am 29, as yet still unwed, and looking forward to family life, if the Lord permits. I haven’t done a lot of pre-planning for my future wedding, nor do I sit around making up traditions to incorporate into my future home. In excess, such pre-prep seems contrived, inauthentic, simply because I have no tangible “hooks to hang it on.” It’s like counting ice cubes that are probably going to melt.

I do have one pre-fabbed rule established for my future household, despite my virgin naivete of child-rearing pits and loopholes: MY KIDS MAY SING AND WHISTLE AT THE TABLE, SHOULD THEY EVER SO DESIRE.

I am a soup-aholic, and I blow on my hot soup to cool it off. (I even blow on my frozen ice cream to melt it down.) And why just blow, when you could whistle a little tune at the same time? I do indeed whistle, and I plan to keep on whistling over my soup in my own home, and I do not plan to stop whistling when I start sharing my table with my kids. One group of college-friends and I used to close our weekly lunches with a hymn — right there in the dining common amongst thousands of people. A little music is good for the digestion.

Can I possibly imagine that my own offspring might embarrass me one day if I allow them to cultivate such a habit? I do imagine they will. Do I fear it? (Ought we fear embarrassment?) No, not really. There are worse fates. I would like to teach them to consider the expectations and preferences of other households (table-singing on visits or in public would be a matter of disobedience punishable by revoked table-singing privileges at home), but I would also like to teach them to appreciate life, to share themselves, to harmonize, to delight in the smallest gifts, and to do it together.

And I guarantee they won’t be waiting till college to learn the lesson of the whistling straw.

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