Sunday, April 22, 2007

A Lady's Education

Coffee Wife of the Walled Garden in the Orkney Islands has some delightful editorials about what it is to be a lady. She discusses in several posts how most modern higher education is useless in helping women to become intelligent, well-rounded ladies. I have long had my reservations about the overall benefits of college life for women. It seems too frequently to have a coarsening, rather than a refining, effect. I was blessed to have had some wonderful professors; I never lived on campus but with my family. Nevertheless, the general moral depravity of college life, even with the minimum exposure I had to it, is not something that was constructive either psychologically or spiritually.

Some of the most truly educated people I have ever known are those who did not go to college at all. A little French Canadian nun named Sister Bernadette who once befriended me has got to be one of the most cultured, classiest women I have ever known. She came from a Vermont farm family, entered religious life in her early twenties, and never went near a university. Sister was barely five feet tall and made me think of what Saint Bernadette would have been like if she had lived to be eighty-five. Sister Bernadette had a keen sense of beauty, order, and propriety. She constructed inlaid art nouveau altars for the oratories in her convent and cultivated gardens that were right out of Shangri-la. No, she was not a scholar but she had logic and an ability to think and interpret the world around her that seems to have been deadened in so many younger people.

I am not advocating doing away with higher education for women. I do think we need to rethink how and why we educate our young girls, teaching them to function as men in the rat race rather than forming them for what will bring them happiness and fulfillment as women. Share

17 comments:

elena maria vidal said...

Somehow the comment box was closed down when I first posted this. Sorry, I don't know how that happened....

Simon said...

I think we all know people who possess an innate wisdom and goodness that does not need the enhancement of formal higher education (although my guess is that Sister Bernadette was exceptionally well-read and interested in the world around her?) But as a college teacher, I take exception to the characterization of college as a center of moral depravity. Some perhaps are --- in the same way that some homes are as well. They lack an understanding of the purpose of an education, just as the family needs to understand why God has called them into being. A college grounded in the ideals of the liberal arts will necessarily be counter-cultural in the best sense. As I read you blog, I am occasionally struck by a sense of nostalgia for a time when the roles of men and women were more obviously defined. I'm not sure that this time ever really existed for most people not members of the middle and upper classes. At any rate, educated men AND women will be needed to combat the spirit of the times.

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, Simon, for your great insights. My remark about Sr Bernadette is tied in with the articles to which I linked. As I said, she was not a scholar; she was "educated" not in a formal sense but certainly in a way suitable for her state of life. She was a well-rounded, well-grounded human being with a vast array of talents and wealth of wisdom that did not come from a university education.

My point (and the point of the other articles) is that a university education is not necessarily for everyone and people can have rich creative life without spending four years and thousands of dollars at an institute of higher learning, where they also may be exposed to heavy drinking and promiscuous lifestyles. Yes, I am aware of many fine colleges and universities where people live upright lives and are trained to address the world's present needs. I know of wayward young people who have been straightened out by being sent to excellent Catholic universities where they were surrounded by peers with a spiritual life. I personally loved academics and would not exchange my education for anything.

As for the "nostalgia" on this blog, I admit to having an interest in history. I have a degree in history and I enjoy writing about the past. Many ladies read this blog and so I have items about "the old days" that they might find diverting as well as interesting.

I believe that we can learn from history and take good things from it. I certainly do not think we should emulate every aspect of the past, even if that were possible. But by studying the past, and keeping what was good, discarding what was bad, we can build a better future.

I disagree about your statement that the roles of men and women not being clearly defined for people not in the upper and middle classes. My study of various peasant cultures says otherwise. I would recommend Eugen Weber's "Peasants into Frenchmen" for a vivid depiction of the life of peasants from the 18th - early 20th ceturies. Men and women had clearly defined roles. In my studies about rural Ireland and rural Ontario in the 1820's, I am coming across some of the same information. Marriage customs, household traditions, all emphasized the varying gender roles.

I would agree however that with the rise of industrialization those roles became increasingly blurred for the urban poor. Nevertheless, the women still had the duty of caring for the babies, even when they themselves had to work in the factories or coal mines.

I agree that we need BOTH highly educated men and women. But Simon, I am tired of running into women who can perform laser eye surgery but do not know how to properly feed or discipline their own children. I think there needs to be some way to help women achieve their academic and professional goals while at the same time cultivating the domestic and nurturing skills that will also make for an enriched life.

Paula said...

Elena your post made a bit nostalgic...for things that I saw only at those from my grandparents generation...for things which, some from my generation of 30 something women with academic degrees, try to re-learn...yes, I can see here in Europe a slight but notable tendency toward a new, authentic womanhood.

elena maria vidal said...

Exactly, Paula, we look to the past not for it's own sake, but in order to enrich the present and build the future. Perhaps it is a matter not so much of nostalgia but of tradition. Traditions are a means of continuity with the past which at the same time enhance the experience of the mystery of the present moment.

Coffee Wife said...

I think a good dose of "nostalgic" would do a lot of good in our present culture!

Paula said...

Elena, the communism has destroyed in a brutal way a whole world in East-Europe.
I know how is to live in a world where traditions were suffocated.
I wandered in dark long years because my generations was robed by the timeless wisdom contained in traditions (I include religion here also).
Our parents could not defend us always and many were confused too.
It is a life saving grace that I converted to Catholicism.

elena maria vidal said...

Welcome, Coffee Wife. Yes, indeed!

Yes, Paula, how true that the ravages of Communism have been so pervasive so as to create a rootless generation. I so admire brave young people like yourself who have sought the truth in spite of everything. What distresses me is that in the USA, without the brutality of a totalitarian regime, we have surrendered on so many levels to the godless, socialistic, utilitarian perspective promulgated by the Communists for so many years in other countries. It says to me that what Our Lady prophesied at Fatima in 1917 has come true-- that "Russia" would spread her errors throughout the world.

alaughland@goeaston.net said...

I just read an interesting interview from Yoko Ono of all people and she somewhat agrees with this. She says: "It is starting to dawn on all women that it is time to forget about trying to compete with men who, with their blunders, have shown us that they have not been doing such a great job. Why try to equate ourselves with such flawed power? Women will realize the futility of trying to be like men and will realize themselves as they are rather than in comparison to men."

marie said...

I am new to this blog but I love its content exactly because it has a delicacy and inate dignity that is unique.

Why are so many girls in colleges and Universities behaving like 'ladettes'? Is it such a great thing to outdo any man in a drinking contest? Or a wet T-shirt contest?

When a person behaves in such a way they degrade themselves, because it is NOT funny it is NOT cute...it is what it is...VULGAR!

Where is there self esteem or sense of self? Or have they none?

Love your blog Elena.

Yours in Christ,

Marie

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you for your kind words, marie! You have a lovely blog, too! Thanks for the comment! That kind of vulgar behavior such as you described is exactly what I mean. It degrades women and women are encouraged to participate in their own degradation.

Interesting reflection, alaughland@goeaston.net!

Juliana said...

I wish I had received A Lady's Education in the outline given by Coffee Wife in Part III. I was born in 1972 and my mother was an ardent feminist in true Gloria Steinem fashion(I still remember my mom's favorite t-shirt from when I was a child, which read: "A Woman without a Man is like a Fish without a Bicycle." I was taught that everything domestic was tedious and not worth doing. I certainly appreciate the value of a college education; however, I wish I had received a better education in being a lady. I am trying my best to learn now. Becoming a mother (I have 1 son) helped me to realize how important it was for me to be a lady.

elena maria vidal said...

Hi, Juliana! I was born ten years ahead of you so my mom and I both went through the whole feminist thing. We had all those slogans. I broke with it completely in my senior year of college because I saw what where it was all going....

Christina K. said...

Hello Miss Vidal,

I just want to thank you very much for your work. I have enjoyed reading Trianon more than any other non-religious book, and I have been truly enlightened as to the truth behind the Revolution from your writings. I will no longer allow anyone to say an unkind word about Marie-Antoinette in my presence! Madame Royal is also a favorite book of mine, and I sincerely hope that you will continue to write!
Thank you for your words about university life for women. It is true that young girls should be at least warned as to the very real dangers that await them at colleges. I am studying for my third degree now, but I certainly know first hand that colleges generally do not look out for the proper education and moral betterment of their young ladies. A true discernment should be made before setting off for one.
Again, thank you!
I look forward to reading your next work!

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, dear Christina. I am delighted. God bless you.

Elisa said...

I lived on campus in both undergrad and grad schools and had a worthwhile experience. It was a challenge to be away from home but I'm glad I did it. I have many memories of activities and events that I enjoyed.
I did hear stories of activities that I didn't feel worth hearing or just stupid.
Living on campus does add up to the tuition. (I knew a number of fellow grad students who lived off campus) Fortunately there was plenty of money to cover both my undergrad and grad schools. When you live on campus, it's up to you to be responsible about your life in and out of the classroom.

elena maria vidal said...

Elisa, I am very glad to hear you had such a positive experience.