Women and Higher Education

It is worth it to know what you don’t know.
~Professor Covington, Bridgewater College

I might go to college, I just don’t know what I would go for.
~The answer I often get when I ask Mennonite girls if they will go to college 

I’m going into the medical field.
~The answer I get when I ask  Mennonite girls who are in college/planning to go to college what they are going for

Is there any point in going to college if you are going to be a wife and mother?
~The question we ponder 

I love college. I think that it is, unquestionably, worth it to go to college even if you are going to focus on being a wife and mother. Even more daringly, I believe that a woman should go to college even if she has no idea what she should go for.

I believe, as my Professor once said, that it is worth it to know what you don’t know.

Now. Instead of listing the fifty-two and a half reasons why I think women should go to college, I am going to veer off in another direction for a bit.

Please tell me you don’t know this girl:

Her clothes are trendy. She plays volleyball and thinks about boys. In her spare time she takes pictures, goes on facebook, and reads fat Christian romance novels.

She has a job, of course, working at a coffee shop or for another Mennonite. Her money goes towards clothes, coffee, and fat Christian romance novels. Maybe a car, or a guitar. Maybe a trip to Bible School or oversees, to see interesting things and get the tiniest taste of mission work.

I don’t understand what the point of living is if that is all you are going to get from life.

People ask, “Is it necessary to go to college?”

I don’t ask that anymore.

Instead I ask, “Is it necessary to spend your time on Karen Kingsbury, your money on starbucks?

Break for commercial
Quote while I’m writing this blog post:
Me: Mom, how do you spell Kingsbury?
Mom: “Kings” like we three kings, “Bury” like bury a body 

The world is big. There is so much to know. If you had time, if you had money, would you spend it on fun or would you spend it on learning? You could learn to speak Spanish. You could learn what aspects of the global warming debate are legitimate and what parts are rubbish. You could learn a hundred, a thousand, a million different things.

I feel like I see Mennonite girls all the time who aren’t sure about college, because they don’t want to be a nurse. Does that sound crazy? Think about it. Think about all the Mennonite women you know who are in college, were in college, or are planning to go to college. How many of them picked nursing, or something else in the medical field?

I think those girls are lucky. They can go to college and do what they love. No one blinks an eyelash. Everyone knows that nursing is a practical thing to do. You can do it on the mission field. You can take care of your child’s medical needs. If you end up unmarried, or a single mother, you can support yourself.

For the rest of us, the ones who aren’t interested in being a nurse, it is harder.

You’re interested in music? Well you can do that without going to college. Art? Teaching? Ditto. What’s the point?

Question: What if you want to go into public relations, theater set design, or archaeology?

Answer: Well, um, I guess I don’t know much about any of those fields….

The thing is, asking someone to choose what they want to be before they’ve done any college at all is like asking someone to choose their absolute favorite kind of cake to eat for the rest of their life when they’ve only eaten three different kinds in their lifetime.

Part of the point of collage is exploring how many amazing opportunities there are in the world which you’ve never though of.

My goal, of course, is not to force/guilt/coerce anyone into going to college. My goal is to show the Mennonite girl that even though no one else is doing it, even though you don’t want to be a nurse, going to college is an immensely feasable and rewarding option.

The end.

31 responses to “Women and Higher Education

  1. Wait, do I know you? Because you just wrote all the thoughts that burn continually inside my head. 🙂 It’s so goood to “meet” another Mennonite girl who is both in school and not in the acceptable field! I never thought of myself as a pioneer or anything, but I get some novel reations when people learn I’m majoring in Psychology and minoring in Art. At the risk of sounding pompous, here is a post I wrote on this delectable topic a while ago: http://countrywithoutborders.blogspot.com/2010/09/ladies-in-waiting.html
    Forgive its reactionary tone, would you?


  2. tisagifttoreceive

    I completely agree with the point you made about the girl in the sunglasses. I wish more people would call that kind of life for what it is.


  3. (roar)

    The croud goes wild.

    at least the crowd in my mind. Way to nail it down with neat, hard blows. The girl description you took away with honesty I have never yet pulled off.
    I love the way you didn’t argue it from the reason you should, but contrasted it to the-life-so-many-people-fall-into. Because that was what made me go–even if I am one of the lucky ones in the medical field who hopes to be a wife and mother 🙂


  4. I remember trying to recruit moms to teach a short course at school on something of interest. Surely someone had a private yen for Anabaptist history, or King Arthur’s court, or poetry, or first aid, or C.S. Lewis, or the Depression, or antique tea tins, or some fun, obscure subject, enough to impart a few hours’ worth of knowledge to 6th graders.
    No one, and Nothing.
    I found that disturbing.
    Later I figured out that some of these women did, indeed, have a stash of knowledge on unusual subjects, such as the Vietnam War of all things, but lacked the confidence to try teaching anyone.
    There are a number of things wrong here and the solution has to be much deeper on both a cultural and personal level than simply “going to college.”


    • disturbing indeed.
      and i agree with the solution being deeper on both levels…
      because, of course, the problem is.

      i’m not sure if this is an umbrella, bottom line or simply *probably is* just a blurt from my lil brain and experiences…
      but it’s a fallen world. and broken.

      and so.
      the deceiver adds his own twist and distraction with everything that is God designed and precious. like with women and childbearing. somehow, perhaps in trying to find and prove our value and significance, we get caught up in, dogmatic and superior about How Many is cool and spiritual. How they got here. How we feed ’em. How long they pooped in their pants. blah.blah.blah. worldly and religious cultures seem to offer different versions of the same thing; an oppression of women.
      it is tricky.

      so. i think i heard you thinking… what are my decisions based on, really?
      whether it be the pursuit of education, career, having more than 1.7 children or how i line up my peaches in canning jars…is it about what is socially acceptable, expected and/or applauded in my circle? or is it about pursueing God’s purpose and plan for me as the individual HE created me to be?

      what am i saying? my point? and why this ramble under dorcas’s comment? i don’t know anymore. oh boy. 🙂 maybe that…we seem to naturally choose being comfortably uncomfortable to try to feel valued, safe and like we belong.

      way to go emily. thanks for sharing this. love the cake analogy.


  5. sooo… there are things you can do without going to college that you can do better with some college education, after all, you don’t learn all your sewing, Bible, canning, gardening, house cleaning, or [insert a skill you have] from just ONE person. If your grandmother, aunties, sisters, and neighbors ALL taught you sewing skills, why should you limit your other learning experiences to one source? with more sources you become better at that skill.
    Know what you don’t know, learn what you might be interested in and gain confidence to SHARE what you are an expert in (however incongruous it may be to your perceived person)
    As a Teacher (my gift from God) I value education even if I cannot see where I will EVER use it. I’m old enough (over 50) to have discovered that God has put my learning to good use when I explored something that I thought I’d NEVER use, but took a class anyway because it sounded interesting.
    Sorry this is so long, but one last thing: Your Cake analogy is the way I think about how we encourage young people to make so many lifelong decisions at an age BEFORE they have the experience.


  6. Say it again, say it again. And this post is good food for thought for guys too.

    What would happen if young people actively tried to broaden their horizons, find interesting and valuable ways to contribute to the world, learned to know some of the things they don’t know? Even if it weren’t through college – traveling off the beaten path, reading challenging books, and making friends from other social groups all would make it harder to be satisfied with safe (and boring) mediocrity.


  7. On the other hand…(((pulling out my old wet blanket)))

    Colleges today tend to teach people WHAT to think instead of teaching people HOW to think. To make it worse, they often teach people to think only what is acceptable by today’s standards…not what is true. Thus, we have a lot of poorly informed, highly educated people wandering around believing tripe, and with great passion!

    College can be an exciting experience, but there are dangers as well.

    Interestingly, there are other ways to aquire an education than the typical college…and really, if “learning” is learned properly, we’ll continue our education until we die.

    Who can argue that knowlege is a fabulous thing??


    Wisdom is better.


    • Maybe the college you went to was different, but I have to say that my teachers held critical thinking up as the #1 priority. I was taught to NEVER accept something without giving it thought/doing background research.
      It is actually kind of ironic because I feel like my Church taught me what to think much more than my college ever did.
      I always felt like my professors were fascinated to hear my take on things, even if it “wasn’t acceptable by today’s standards” because it showed that I was thinking.
      I do agree that Wisdom is better than knowledge, and that there are many many other ways to learn things besides going to college. I am just curious to know where you got your info on what “colleges today are like” because it sounds completely different than what my experiences at two different colleges has been.
      That being said…it IS true that things at college are taught through a worldly mind-set, and not a godly one. Which can be dangerous, but poses as a good opportunity to learn how to distinguish good from evil, right from wrong, truth from error



    • true.
      but. if the church (and more importantly, the individual families within the church) teaches its people to discern truth from fiction, then its people, no matter what they are told, will do that.


  8. Good for you, Emily. Sending my 15 year old Dd to read your post. 😉 I wish I could have gone to college when I was younger and wanted to. I was absalutely forbidden to do that–not one teeny, tiny class–by my church who felt that all education past 8th grade was suspect, and certainly that any thing past 12th was the straight road to hell. Now I am a busy mom with 5 children . . . several special needs . . . and there is no way for me to go to college. But I havent’ lost my dream and some day I think I will. Even if I can only go when I’m so old that I can only “audit” classes for free. I will keep learning.


    • Emily’s older bro Matt here…

      There were several people that I graduated with who were 55+, and coming back to school to fulfill their educational and/or career dreams…one woman that I did several class projects with was 58 and had children my age.

      All that to say, don’t ever think you’re too old for college…you’re not.


  9. Emily – are you still in Va? Bridgewater?? If you are interested in missions and want to talk mission stuff you have absolutely GOT to visit EQuipping the Saints in Wyers Cave. Its a ministry that collects equipment-medical-office-computer-you name we got it. Could ALWAYS use volunteers. would love to meet you (probably already have and just didnt know it). Love your posts (and your mom’s) definitely a kindred spirit!!!!


  10. well you can check out their website- and if you need any connections let me know ! One of my “gifts” is connecting people who “of kindred spirit” or at least have the same goals-visions in mind. http://www.etsusa.org But if you are ever this way get in touch.


  11. Rock on, Emily, rock on! College is not for everyone, of course, but when I think of all the brilliant people I grew up with (Beachy Amish Mennonite) who never once considered college, I want to bang my head. I remember the sense that four years of college seemed like an eternity–because four years of playing volley-ball and cleaning houses is a can’t-miss opportunity, I guess???

    I finally started college at 25 (wish I had done so sooner), and am now getting a Ph.D. As you say above, the benefit of an education is learning about all that you do not know–and the further you go, the truer that is. Even if I were to never get a job that required a doctorate, my time in college is not a waste, but an incredible privilege. Learning to question, to think critically, to respect the experiences of others–this is what a college education means to me.

    The closest thing to indoctrination I’ve seen at college is the nutty street preacher that comes and yells at the students every fall. And the only reason he gets to do that is because our “evil” university values pluralism. 🙂


  12. I have to say that the church often teaches ‘what to think’ disguised as ‘how to think’, and that’s the most dangerous kind of ‘what to think’ because it leaves people not only with no real critical thinking skills, but also completely closed off to any further ‘worldly’ examinations of their beliefs.

    “Let’s critically examine the inerrency of the Bible. Let’s see, in one place deep in the OT it says that the earth revolves around the sun, but that isn’t pertinent to the meaning. So the Bible is fundamentally inerrent. Moving on.

    “Let’s critically examine the validity of other faiths. Well, Islam and Judaism are above all legalistic with no concept of grace and Muslims and Jews are all lost and sad. We must reach out to them. Moving on.

    “Let’s critically examine the different accounts of Jesus among the gospels. Redaction criticism is too dangerous and Bart Ehrman’s bestseller’s are works of the devil. Moving on.”

    The danger here is of someone going from a church like this to a good college, and totally throwing out the baby with the bathwater. I mean young people losing their faith because the simpleton faith in their old church doesn’t stand a chance in the face of just a few casual questions put to it by people who make their livings detecting flaws in arguments.

    Here’s one:
    How do you know for sure that the Bible is true?
    Well, the Holy Spirit in me gives me discernment.
    How do you know for sure that what you’re experiencing is a holy spirit within you?
    Well, it says so in the Bible.
    But how do you know the Bible is true? Circular Argument..


  13. Excellent, Emily. You don’t know me…but keep on. I am working on my masters in English Literature and am still a conservative Anabaptist/Mennonite. I have no real reason to be continuing school, except that God says so — and how do you make that make sense to others in the church? You don’t. But one obeys. And the learning is a joy. And you hope to inspire someone else along the way. It is the soul that is important, more than the practical needs of the body — and one must feed the soul through learning and worship. May God free us from stagnation.


  14. Thanks for this! I had wanted to go to college ever since high school but it simply wasn’t done unless it was for nursing(a field in which I have zero interest). So I didn’t go because I’m a little chicken that way and because I wanted to go into missions. I spent about 4 years on the field before realizing that I would have been much better off getting a education first. I’m now in my first year of college and absolutely loving it. I’ve been thinking lately about my nieces and nephews and hoping that they have the opportunity to go to college when they grow up.


  15. I really enjoyed the article, Emily. So much so that I read it to my high school students today. My degree was in music, but I spend most of my day teaching Math, Bible, and being a principal. I loved your point that the only thing worse than wasting four years in school is wasting four years going to drinking expensive coffee, reading novels, and talking about boys. Perfect. But it doesn’t mean that wasting 4 years in school is the best idea, however. Does it have to be either/or?

    I value my college experience, and believe more menno students/adults/women should attend. However, a ‘lack of college’ is the least of our problems. It tends to magnify a bigger human problem: we’ve bought into the humanistic idea that our lives are all about us. Therefore, college becomes an experience we pursue to enhance the life of the main character of our story (us), instead of asking the more important question. Based on my gifts, experiences, resources, and life trajectory, will a college degree increase my ability to make HIM famous and serve His purpose? If yes, then GO! As Christians, a college education serves a higher life purpose. It does not “create” a higher life purpose. It serves His Purpose….rather than letting college “use” us to serve it’s purposes (which include $$$, propagation of devil’s idea that life is about me).

    For this reason, I personally think college is a horrible (at least less than ideal) place for a Christian young person to “find themselves” or “find their purpose.” College will almost always sabotage this effort faster than you can say “Sucker!” College is not the “answer” to “re-learn” or “re-think” any kind of an anti-critical, ultra-sheltered way of thinking a person may have grown up with. It will simply expose it and laugh hysterically.

    One thing that bothers me is the American ideal that college is some sort of magic ticket to success and awesomeness that should be violently shoved down the throat of every high-school graduate. Critical thinking is not learned in college (albeit extremely necessary). Basic life skills are not taught in college. Life-long learners are not created in college. College is what it is: a great place to achieve a higher level of competence in a given field and begin building a lifelong network of professors and classmates (if you are lucky) who share your passion/resources. All for His Glory.



  16. Galen, so succinctly and well-put~couldn’t agree with you more!!

    On the other hand, Emily, I couldn’t disagree with you more on your last sentence. I believe it’s the Bible, not college, which affords us the opportunity to distinguish right from wrong, etc. That by studying its truth that we can recognize what’s false. And that it’s by studying the authentic that we can identify the counterfeit.

    Sarah from Sarasota


    • Sarah- are you speaking of this sentence?

      That being said…it IS true that things at college are taught through a worldly mind-set, and not a godly one. Which can be dangerous, but poses as a good opportunity to learn how to distinguish good from evil, right from wrong, truth from error.

      Goodness gracious me, I never meant for that to come across as saying that college teaches us to determine right from wrong! I meant that since we are taught some good things and some bad things in college, it gives us a chance to practice figuring out what parts are good and what parts are bad. Obviously, the ONLY WAY to figure out what parts are good and what parts are bad is by looking to the Bible!!!

      Sorry for the confusion. Wow. I have to say that if I turned to college to help me figure out what is good and what is bad I would be a very sad and confused young lady indeed.


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  18. It is immensely feasible and rewarding, yes, and immensely enjoyable, too. And it helped prepare me to be a better mother, I might add. I shall go back to school once my boys are older. Yes, I shall!
    I read Becca’s post, too, and I love her answer to your “question we ponder”:
    ‎”…mothers are the first and primary educators of their children. If her world is only as big as her house, her cultural experience limited to her own, and her reading material limited to romance fiction, she is poorly equipped to gift to her children the broad scope of change their faith is meant to bring to this world.”
    Amen and bravo to both of you!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I’ve been in “college” or what we (in Australia) call university, for just over two months now. Prior to that I was out of “formal schooling” for about 5 years or so. One thing that I have discovered, is exactly what Sara stated above. I’ve been taught “what to think.” It took very little to realize that I had no Biblical foundation on why I thought and believed the way I did. Changing that has been a challenge. And I could not agree more with Galen. We as people, have bought into so many unrealistic ideas. A humanistic one is just one of them. Going to college, is certainly no sin. But one can continue learning, being a critical thinker, and a kingdom builder just as well without college. There is a person in my life, who as far as I know, has never had past a grade 8 education. But the more I observe the thinking that goes on, and the reasoning, the more I have to conclude, that this person is probably one of the most intelligent, in-depth, critical thinker, and godly person that I have ever had the privileged of knowing.

    I enjoy reading your writings. Keep it up!:-)


  20. Oh my this is so refreshing! Yeah, I often feel a little odd…being a Mennonite girl telling my Mennonite friends that I’m going to college…and no, not for nursing or teaching. I was majoring in English/Linguistics cuz I’m interested in Bible translation, so that seemed legit I think, but now I’m an Anthropology major. I think they’ll be fine with that, but sometimes I get that feeling that this is definitely somethin’ different. Comforting to know others are out at college too, not even studying in “usual” fields. 🙂


  21. It is “somethin’ different.” And sometimes, as Christians, we can introduce “somethin’ different” into others’ lives as we go through college.

    Galen — I was one of those who grew up with “college shoved down my throat,” and have become a conservative Anabaptist in my 30’s. I agree — college should not be viewed as the only route to “success,” either to the Christian or the non-Christian. I am going to college again, pursuing my Master’s, as a Christian after having done my Bachelor’s as a non-Christian in my 20’s. Going to college with a purpose and a calling is a totally different experience than going to college because “that’s what you do.”

    Why is it that the issue of college is so polarized? Some people are called to go to college, others aren’t. Those who go to college aren’t choosing “evil.” Those whose calling is elsewhere should follow that calling. (Ironically, my experience in high school was that those who don’t go to college are lazy, and those who do go are somehow superior.)


  22. Agreeing with Sheryl and Galen. And I dont care much for Kingsbury. Further, we must be a bit careful with the generalizations. One could fairly easily call into question the critical thinking ability of “college girls” in America. Does it really show a sophisticated level of rational ability to binge drink, dance til you drop in a rave, do ecstasy, have multiple sex partners, and go topless during spring break? I am aware not all college girls embrace these activities but a lot do.

    Not too long ago I worked in a history department where everybody had Masters degrees, about 25 in all. I would say well over half read the horoscope faithfully. One asked me if the French and Indian War had anything to do with the Indian subcontinent.

    The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. And I am all for acquiring knowledge. If it is at college great. If not at college great.


  23. from afar I have to say this was a good read. It’s funny how touchy of an issue this still is in the menno community. We are pragmatic to a fault at times and I think higher education gets more stones thrown at it than deserved. Enjoy your learning. I knew your parents when I was a kid and they always inspired me and others. Once the desired level of education is earned life really does just go on. (no surprise here) College can plant excellent ideas in your mind but the hard part is putting them to use in our lives. I tell people I learned two things in college: the vastness of knowledge unknown to me; and that God is faithful to meet your needs when we truly depend on him. So did I really need to go to school to learn that? I think I did and that says more about me than about college.

    I really liked what you wrote about challenging young mennos to higher learning. The university may scare the masses within our communities, but challenge your readers to be learners, whether within the confines of an institute of higher learning, or in their “spare” time as a busy mother settling for kingsbury over voscamp. The disparity I feel in churches today is more about the attitude of learning than the lack of educated people. In fact, the modern menno church, MCUSA, has on a national average per capita more members with master’s degrees and higher than does any other US denomination. MCUSA faces extinction as they have lost the younger generation. In the end, Jesus says we need to love him with our minds. Learning to know Jesus is an act of the mind many are too lazy to explore.
    thanks for the inspiration.


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