Thursday, May 6, 2010

An Education

Our good friend Cat shared a quote by her dad with us a while ago. It had been going around in my head ever since, and I finally manage to actually write about it: "The best life insurance a man can have is an educated wife". Back in the 50s and 60s, it was a rarity for a woman to have a college degree and work after being married and having children. Cat's mom was one of these few women; she graduated from nursing school and became a obstetrical nurse. Over the time of her career she worked in various hospitals in the country, kept attending additional courses to keep up with the latest discoveries in the field, and ended up teaching classes herself at local colleges here in the Seattle area. Unfortunately, this wonderful woman died the year we moved up here to Washington; I would have loved meeting such a strong person, who has overcome so much to follow her calling.

Today, with the majority of college student being female, one might think that the notion of a woman place pregnant and barefoot in the kitchen, is something of the past. Unfortunately, it is not. I myself have faced criticism for choosing to broaden my education rather than jump right into the reproduction business as soon as the ink on our marriage certificate was dry. Given the fact that Richard and I only knew each other for a little less than 5 months when we were married, we rather enjoyed some time as just the two of us. With our initial intentions to stay in the USA for good, I learned that most places would not accept my degree from Germany as a bachelor's degree (which is the greatest joke in the world, and might just be the subject of a future post). Thus, it made sense for me to go back and earn a degree no-one would question here. About 4 months into my 15-months program I became pregnant with Lily, but quitting school was not even an option for me, so I pushed myself through 9 months of working full-time, taking accelerated coursework, and being pregnant. I admit, it wasn't always easy, but when I graduated 2 months after Lily was born with a near-perfect GPA, I was proud of my achievement, and so was Richard. Five months after Lily was born we moved to Washington, and it was this degree that helped me getting the job we needed to support our family. We are by far not a traditional family, but the arrangement works well for us, so why judging us for it?

Earlier this year I watched the movie "An Education" (based on a novel by Nick Hornby), where a young girl decides to drop out of school to get married. While her father first encouraged (ok, rather pushed) her to study hard to be able to study at a college at Oxford, he had no problem accepting her decision to leave school as soon as a ring appeared on her finger. When this bubble burst (the smart fiance was already married with a bunch of children), the girl was left without a future. Thanks to a dedicated teacher, who wanted to see her succeed, she was able to study and prepare for the finals anyways (the principal of her school would not accept her back due to her behavior when she left school), pass and move on to study in Oxford. She had realized that she couldn't rely on anyone to provide a comfortable future for her but rather had to go ahead and forge her fortune herself.

I cannot understand how something Cat's father realized half a century ago is still not common practice today. I see girls starting college, getting married after a few semesters and dropping out, relying on their husbands to keep supporting them. But with a divorce rate of 50% or more, it is almost crazy to completely rely on someone else for income. Even in the case of the husband dying and leaving a sizable life insurance policy for his family, this money will run out sooner or later. Thus, it is important for women to step up, get educated or trained in a profession, and stay up-to-date; life is unpredictable, therefore we need to do what it takes to prepare for the worst-case scenario, no matter how unlikely it seems.

PS.: I really recommend ready the book "An Education" by Nick Hornby (or watch the movie, if you don't have time to read); it is an interesting case study on the importance of education for women.

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