Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Platitudes and Misconceptions #2: Why Aren't You Using Your Degree?

I've been mulling over this "why aren't you using your degree" misconception for quite some time now. Back in March, I wrote about a reporter from our local newspaper who interviewed me and a few other parents about homeschooling. While the article itself was innocuous (though bland), what irked me was this, which I can best explain by quoting my own blog:
…right off the bat, [the reporter] commented that my husband and I both have post-graduate degrees. I was trying to figure out where this was going when he said something to the effect of: "So you have a master's degree and were certified to teach public school, but you're not using it?" Yes, he actually said that. I laughed and said, "Not using it? I use it every day!" He sputtered then, but I told him I was glad he voiced that, because this is such a common misconception not only toward homeschoolers but toward stay-at-home moms in general.

A fellow homeschooling dad and then-employee of this same newspaper later told me that this reporter mentioned how riled up I got about his comment. I really didn't get riled up. I was quite calm, but he probably didn't appreciate my knowing smirk. It's hard not to smirk at such an outdated and ridiculous comment.

To claim that one isn't using one's degree at home is, frankly, ignorant. It's right along the same line as, "You need to be a certified teacher to teach your kids at home." Please. Anyone who has gone through teacher certification knows that half of what you learn in education courses is useless information. Seriously. The only way you really learn how to teach is by, um, teaching and being open to continuously learning and improving. Aah, but that's another misconception to address on another day.

I have a bachelor's degree in English with a minor in history, and I did certify to teach at the secondary level (although that certification would have lapsed a long time ago). I also have a master's degree in English, with a concentration in creative writing. I had an incredible interdisciplinary Humanities program and a slew of excellent professors at my liberal arts college that broadened my knowledge base in countless ways. After college I worked in a variety of jobs, from telemarketer to substitute teaching to editor, before being a stay-at-home mom. When my firstborn was about three, I decided it was a good time to pursue my master's degree. I took mostly evening classes and finished three years later. By that time we'd added a new baby. For those three years, by day I did playgroups and story time at the library and spent hours at the park; by evening I wrote furiously, determined to finish my thesis and get my master's degree.

I did not go into college or graduate school thinking, "How will I use this degree?" I went into thinking, "What will I learn? How will I grow? What kind of interesting people will I meet?" College was never optional for me; it was a given. Earning my master's degree was a personal goal that I'd set when I was very young. I had a great role model. My mother received her master's degree when I, the youngest of five, was a baby and my oldest brother was 16. My mother hadn't worked outside the home in over a decade at that point. But she taught us every single day, from nursery rhymes to botany in the woods to storytelling to music to cooking. Although her career was raising five children, she traveled extensively throughout the world, always studying the culture, language, and literature of the country before visiting there. She worked side-by-side with my father, a research scientist, helping him with this research, recording data, suggesting possibilities. She volunteered with Headstart back in its early days and with a sewing guild, teaching young women how to read patterns and sew their own clothes. When I was in high school, she began a 20-year position with Literacy Volunteers, helping a dozen or more foreign students learn to read, write, and speak English through the years. Don't tell me my mother wasn't using her degree.

So what qualifies as "using your degree"? Must I teach in the public school system? Do I have to be a journalist, an editor, or a playwright? Or is it all a matter of a paycheck? Would I be "using my degree" if I were working at a daycare, but not at home, with my own children? Must I earn actual money to be using my degree?

Any mother knows that she uses her degree every day, whether it's a high school degree or a PhD. Perhaps homeschooling moms are more acutely aware of using those degrees simply because our lives are filled with constant learning as we seek to raise new learners. To say that our own children—our families— aren't worthy beneficiaries of our degrees is treading on some dangerous territory. And there's an army of moms with diplomas ready to enlighten those poor souls who just don't get it.

Related post:
Platitudes and Misconceptions #1: I'm a Better Mom Because I…


  1. I enjoyed your post, but I wanted to comment on your header. The colors are gorgeous and you've quoted one of my favorite poems! Beautiful!

  2. Would I be "using my degree" if I were working at a daycare, but not at home, with my own children? Must I earn actual money to be using my degree?

    Amen! So well written! I wholeheartedly agree!

  3. Well said. As a person who does not have a bachelor's or master's degree, I have days that I desire one (like today). I have some college & a technical degree in cosmetology, but today was one of those days where I considered going back for my degree so I could be a better academic teacher.

    Great post.

  4. Loved your post ... one of the most difficult discussions I've had since I started homeschooling was with my major professor in college ... asking the same stupid, arrogant, uninformed question, only phrased this way, "Don't you worry that you're wasting your $_ _,000.00 degree? And, because she is not a Believer, she couldn't understand what I meant by feeling called to do something or investing in what God has entrusted to me ...
    okay, I gotta go have another cup of coffee before I get really worked up!

  5. Great post! Think about the irony of his question. They want to require homeschool parents to have degrees and/or certification. But then parents with a degree are basically seen as overqualified for teaching at home??? Nuts. I really enjoyed your post.

  6. Thanks for the article. I too have a teaching degree but decided long ago to use that for my own children's benefit. Some people I knew before had such a hard time reconciling it in their brains. They were constantly asking me after my son was born when was I going to go back to work and giving me job opportunities. They finally got the hint.
    I have never regretted my decision. I wouldn't trade my education, it has helped me. But you are so right, you learn more teaching than you ever did in education classroom.
    I love your blog, we are new to the homeschooling group but since we come to the 9:30 class, haven't had the chance to meet you and your family. Maybe we'll get that opportunity soon.

  7. We are also a family headed by two "educated by the world's standards" adults. Between us, dh and I have what feels like a whole university course catalog covered! :-) Because of this, I often get the same line, along with the implication that I shouldn't have invested my time in pursuing higher education since I clearly never intended to "use it."


  8. i was once with a fellow homeschooling friend who happens to be a certified elementary teacher. we were on an airplane and she got into a conversation with the gentleman next to her. somehow the subject of homeschooling came up. he actually seemed relieved to find out she had a degree in education! her homeschool was validated to this man because SHE had experience teaching! he looked at me with a bit of disdain. he seemed to think that because i only had a degree in communications that my homeschool lacked. wow. i think i tire of judgement. on any angle. whether it be social, academic or otherwise. it's hard enough to raise kids without feeling like you're not measuring up.

    i can just see your smirk, sarah!

  9. A link to your blog led me to your post. What a great response to an inane question! Thanks for a delightful read.

  10. Excellent post! And I can so relate....I have a Bachelor's Degree in Sociology from the College of William and Mary. More than one person has asked me that same question.

  11. Melissa, I know 3 other W&M graduates who are homeschooling their children!
    I too, have a Masters in Education, but have spent the last 5+ years teaching my children. No, I don't get paid but I have saved our family over $100,000 by not having to send them to private school!

  12. Good post. When I tell people that my wife home schools our kids, some folks react strangely and start asking lots of questions because they think it is so weird.

    I find it funny that if I happen to mention in those conversations that my wife has a teaching degree and used to be a teacher in a few Christian schools, they will change their tone almost immediately and back down. THAT is ok with them, apparently. But to teach your own kids without a degree (*shudder*) is some form of sacrilege. It's crazy.

    Thanks for letting me rant.



I love comments! Thanks for taking the time to leave one. I have comment moderation on, so your comment will take a little bit to appear.