This is a post inspired by two things I read online today because friends posted links on Facebook. In the first, a Catholic father explains 6 (+2) Reasons NOT to Send Your Daughter to College. I found this post problematic, and I will elaborate later on some of the reasons why I remain troubled by it (indeed, by the theological claims made all over that website). But that’s not the only thing I read today. I also read Pope Francis’ Letter to the Founder of “La Repubblica” Italian Newspaper. And it was my reflection on this second piece that has challenged me to spend more time with the first one. Why? Because Pope Francis took the time to respond to several questions posed by Eugenio Scalfari regarding his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei. Mr. Scalfari described himself as a non-believer interested in the preaching of Jesus. And in his letter of response, Pope Francis explains the need for dialogue (as translated by Zenit):
Therefore, it seems to me that it is nothing other than positive, not only for us individually but also for the society in which we live, to pause to dialogue on a reality as important as the faith is, which calls to preaching and to the figure of Jesus.
Later, the pope goes on to explain that truth and love go hand-in-hand, as he elaborates here:
Did not Jesus himself say: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life?” In other words, truth being altogether one with love, requires humility and openness to be sought, received, and expressed. Therefore, it’s necessary to understand one another well on the terms and, perhaps, to come out of the tight spots of opposition.
In the spirit of dialogue, then, and with the hope of coming out of the tight spots of opposition, I will spend some time here wrestling with the theological claims found on the Fix the Family website. Again, I will quote Pope Francis. He closes his letter to Mr. Scalfari by saying his letter was “the tentative and provisional but sincere and confident answer to the invitation to escort you in a segment of the road together.”
To Mr. Alleman, author of the “6 (+2) Reasons NOT to Send Your Daughter to College,” I say this is my tentative and provisional but sincere and confident answer. I invite readers to chime in below in the comments section, but first read our CMT comments policy here.
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First: The Rules
I proceed with the goal of describing which of Mr. Alleman’s claims are theologically inadequate, which parts of his arguments are methodologically unsound, and which conclusions are contrary to Catholic teaching, offensive to women, or both. But before I begin, I want to clearly state that I will not engage in personal attack, and I will not question Mr. Alleman’s intent or motives. I believe him when he says he is a family man. He seems genuinely interested in the Catholic moral tradition. But I believe that he presents a distorted view of feminism and a flawed interpretation of magisterial teachings. Even though my goal is dialogue with Mr. Alleman, it ultimately does not really matter if he reads this. But when I was thinking today about why his website is so dangerous for young women, it occurred to me that many young Catholic readers may stumble upon his website and become confused. Readers may wonder if there is another way to think about gender norms, sexuality, prayer, discernment, and marriage, while remaining in the Church (there is). Readers may wonder if he presents an accurate portrait of feminists (he doesn’t). My goal is the same as his: to reach a wide audience of readers on the internet who would like to know more about the Catholic Church’s teachings on marriage and family life. As he writes on his website, “You don’t have to be rich or have an advanced degree to access or understand them. Just bring a willing spirit, open mind, and willingness to change.” I ask the same.
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Seeking Common Ground
When possible, I will give special emphasis to areas of shared concern. We do agree on some points, after all. In particular, we agree that:
1. Women and men have equal dignity.
2. College life presents temptations to sin.
3. Our culture (and economy) undervalues the labor of stay-at-home mothers.
4. College is expensive, and college debt is a heavy burden for young married couples.
5. The high cost of college is a factor in some couple’s decisions to limit the number of children they have.
6. Working women with children sometimes feel guilty for being less available to their children.
7. Scriptures and Church teachings are sources of wisdom for helping contemporary Catholics think about their struggles in the light of faith.
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6 Reasons (+2) to NOT Send Your Daughter to College, and Some Initial Thoughts
Reason #1: She will attract the wrong types of men.
Mr. Alleman explains that some men are lazy, and these men will be attracted to a college-educated woman who can provide for them, so it would be better for your daughter if she is not seen as attractive by these lazy men. How should I begin to respond? First of all, not all men are lazy. I don’t think that withholding a college education from my daughter would be appropriate simply because some men are lazy. Secondly, if a lazy man is attracted to my college educated daughter, and she does not share his level of ambition or work ethic, I would assume she would not agree to marry him.
Reason #2: She will be in a near occasion of sin.
It would be better for your daughter if she were not tempted by the hook up culture at college. Mr Alleman explains:
You have a heavy concentration of young people all living together without the supervision of parents at the most sexually charged state of life they will experience. How can one expect that anyone would be able to avoid these temptations, even on a Catholic college campus much less a secular one?
The problem here is that he assumes it is impossible to remain chaste. While I do agree that the hookup culture prevalent on college campuses feeds a sexual double standard by privileging men and making women vulnerable to sexual violence, not all college students hookup. As a parent, I will help my daughter to understand the false scripts of the hookup culture (which she will undoubtedly encounter before college anyway), and it is my responsibility to support her and to help her and her friends to learn the importance of self-respect and care for themselves in relationships. College is about more than sexual relationships, and I believe that some colleges do a very good job of promoting healthy relationships between men and women.
Reason #3: She will not learn to be a wife and mother.
Mr. Alleman says that “nothing that is taught in a college curriculum is geared toward domestic homemaking. On the contrary it is training in a very masculine role of a professional career.” Where to begin? He is right that there is no class in our course catalog called “How to Be a Wife and Mother.” But I resist the assumption that a college educated woman would be ill-equipped for the duties of wifing and mothering. How do most women learn to be partners and parents? They learn on the job. They grow into it, just as one goes from being single to engaged without passing a course called “How to Be Engaged to Your Future Husband.” You’ve never soothed a crying infant? Don’t worry, you can learn on the job. You’ve never analyzed a budget to determine whether you can afford a summer vacation? Get out the excel spreadsheet and let’s do some budgeting. Like many in my field, I believe that a solid liberal arts education prepares people not only for careers, but also for culture and citizenship. College should not only be about professionalization (and professionalization is not only about male students). The Catholic intellectual tradition affirms the need for a well-rounded education, and as my daughter is beginning to look at colleges, I will help her understand the value of a liberal arts education that can prepare her to discern her vocation both in the workplace and in the home.
Reason #4: The cost of a degree is becoming more difficult to recoup.
The problem here is not that he’s wrong about college being expensive, but rather that he argues this is a sufficient reason to prevent girls from going to college.
Reason #5: You don’t have to prove anything to the world.
It is difficult to follow the argument here, but basically he says that society expects women to work, and you don’t have to buy into that expectation. Just don’t send your daughter to college and you can prove society is wrong. In this section he tells parents that they don’t have to cave to the pressure of society. But in the process he belittles parents who are proud of their daughters’ achievements: “So parents and their daughters often beam with pride in announcing what university she will attend.” I don’t see the problem here. Parents proud of their daughters- what’s the big deal?
Reason #6- It could be a near occasion of sin for the parents.
Parents may avoid having more children by using the forbidden methods of contraception, sterilization, or illicit use of NFP because they fear being unable to pay for each child to go to college. “To assume that all of our children will need a college degree is quite a stretch, particularly for girls who will likely be mothers.” As I said above, I agree that the expense of college is a factor in some couples’ decisions to limit the number of children they have, but I do not assume that all of these couples will necessarily use forbidden methods of family planning. And even for couples who do discern in conscience that they are unable to have any more children, they should be encouraged to form their conscience and follow their conscience when deciding about methods of family planning, keeping in mind the unique circumstances of their own marriage. In Catholic teaching, a person is obliged to follow her fully formed conscience.
Reason #7- She will regret it.
He writes “the more we talk about this prudent option for girls, the more we have women who are willing to admit to the regret they possess for having bought into the lie of the dual-career family.” He says working women “regret neglecting their children and restricting their childbearing to such an extent.” But do all working women neglect their children? Do working women regret going to college? I am a working mom in a dual-career family who remains incredibly grateful for the privilege of attending college. I did not attend college for the “M-R-S.” But it makes me a better wife. I did not take a single college class in child psychology or early childhood education, though both of those courses probably would helped me parent my toddler now. My college education helped me to become the person I am today. I learned skills that empower me to speak up in my marriage relationship, and that enabled me to secure the job that pays my children’s school fees, among other things. I don’t regret a thing. But that does not mean that being a working mom is easy. Some women’s jobs are too demanding. But we should not blame the women! We should instead work to create a society that promotes work-life balance, and build a culture that supports the dignity of work.
Reason #8- It could interfere with a religious vocation.
If your daughter has substantial student load debt, she may be unable to join a religious order. I don’t think this is the main reason for the decline of vocations to religious life. It seems to me that keeping your daughter from going to college so that she can have the option of joining a religious order is an unnecessary sacrifice.
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Elsewhere on his website, Mr. Alleman elaborates on these eight reasons for not sending your daughter to college and the dangers your daughters will encounter in our culture. For example:
Well if we follow our society’s script, which most Catholic families do, which was written by rebellious feminists, girls will grow up going to school where many of her friends will begin contracepting as soon as their reproductive organs become operable. Right away, they begin to reject their very femininity. Not only that but with chemical contraception of this nature, it affects their total physiology including their mentality. So even if a girl is not practicing contraception herself she is immersed in a culture that is. Then this school which has control over her day in and day out and controls what she does with her life is telling her to “make something of herself” which contradicts the very thing she would become if she followed the natural law. So she goes on to college to get a degree, then graduates and gets a job. Then she eventually starts having children, but finds them too much of a burden so limits her family size, and eventually mutilates her body so she can no longer conceive children.
I agree, to some extent, with his analysis of our culture and its role in forming young women. But in my view, it is not a bad thing if women are socialized to “make something of herself,” and this in no way contradicts the natural law.
According to Mr. Alleman, if we simply follow the natural law, we will adopt a family structure he describes as “a family with a man as the provider and the mom as a stay-at-home full-time mom.” Mr. Alleman also argues that the natural law demands wives be submissive to their husbands. He says there is very little in Catholic doctrine that promotes a woman working outside the home, and that so much pain can be avoided if stop trying to make women into men. Also, according to Mr. Alleman, “feminists HATE the traditional family structure.”
Mr. Alleman is engaged in gender essentialist thinking rooted in a physicalist approach to the natural law. The natural law in Catholic teachings is a way to talk about making moral claims about what is right and wrong by drawing on interpretations of human experience (or, in this more physicalist strain, human embodiment). Thus, one “reads” the human body for signs of God’s intent or purpose. For Mr. Alleman, the biological differences between men and women also necessitate role differentiations. Men and women are equal, he says, but they have different roles. What some would find problematic is that his role descriptions yield relationships of unequal power.
Mr. Alleman is aware of Church teachings against direct contraception and direct sterilization. But does he really understand Catholic teachings on marriage?
Catholic teachings on marriage have developed over time, but contemporary teachings affirm marriage as a partnership of life and love, and demand that men respect women as equals. Feminist theologians do not hate families; feminist theologians in the Catholic tradition think that love and justice go together. Their aim is to promote full interdependent human flourishing, and this demands the partnership of women and men to build a society that protects the vulnerable and promotes the common good. In the feminist vision, this does not require male control over women but rather shared power and partnership, a mutual giving and receiving of love.