Saturday, July 14, 2012

Liberal Arts vs. Family?

After four years at an exceptional liberal arts institution, I've come to summarize liberal arts with three core values that seek to bring about a more harmonious world: education, health, and travel. With these three components, I was taught, we can change our world for the better as more people gain a greater understanding of humanity's interconnectedness with each other and the earth.

Education, health and travel are important to me, but I find myself in conflict. I grew up in a household that had other values on top. At home I learned to value family, egalitarian interactions, friendship, love, hard work, and the higher power that guides it all. Obviously the liberal arts values don't inherently conflict with the values I learned at home, but they clash more frequently than some may realize.

During my senior year of college I began to experience a deep frustration, which took me an additional year after graduation to understand. A few of my classmates so touted the liberal arts values that it became offensive to me, sometimes to the point that I couldn't sleep at night (and I am a good sleeper). When I would interact with people who placed a moralistic necessity on these liberal arts values, I took it hard.

One of my professors invited me to see an applicant to teach at the college give a presentation of her classroom values and teaching style. I liked her quite a bit, until she said something that crushed me. She said, "I teach a lot of first generation college students, so I usually start by explaining how classrooms function: that people should raise their hands when they want to speak, and shouldn't text during class..." After she said that I felt myself spiraling into a sick sort feeling, unable to listen to anything else she had to say. I still ruminate on this comment, which would not have phased most of my peers.

I love my family so much. So so much. So much. Owen and I look up to my parents' marriage as the example of marital bliss, often citing their interactions when we don't know how to react ourselves. My parents are very smart people, and Owen frequently refers to each of them as "remarkable" in their interpersonal insights. So though I am a first generation college student, my parents actually did teach me common courtesy! (Who'd a thunk it?) Though I should give credit where credit is due: my first grade teacher taught me to raise my hand in class.

I sound bitter. In some ways I have been. The liberal arts values do not need to conflict with my familial values, but at times other people don't hear the harmony that I seek to create between my upbringing and the liberal arts. When professors would ask me what I was going to do after graduation, I experienced a certain bashfulness telling them that I would be turning down acceptance to graduate school in order to get married. I feared that my professors would value education more highly than marriage.

By valuing love and family more than education, I found myself feeling inadequate. I began to draw lines between different groups of people. It went something like this: Group A included those whose families naturally embody the liberal arts education; nice enough people, but I felt that they would never understand me. Group B included those who lived outside of the liberal arts mindset; those who didn't always have the money to value education, health, and travel to such an extent. And then there was me. Me with The Grapes of Wrath ancestry Group B mindset trying to maneuver a Group A world.

When I allowed this sense of separation into my mind, I began to hold myself back. Over the past year I've felt timid about reaching any further for education and questioned my own abilities. Not that I question my intelligence so much as my emotional capacity to continue striving for education when academia seems like a world that doesn't care for people like me, people who choose marriage at the young age of twenty-two.

Thankfully, I have friends and family who are wiser than myself, and who have reminded me that the divisions I've drawn for myself and others are illusions. Whatever groupings we place among ourselves are human created and need not get in the way of reaching for the lives that we desire. No one seeks to exclude me from academia, and I have the capacity to bring my worlds together. Thankfully I have a loving husband to help me find the balance that I desire.


  1. Ugh, I feel like that teacher was just being presumptuous and wasn't thinking how a LOT of people who have etiquette don't have jobs pertaining to academia

  2. Wonderful post, Summer. I had some thoughts about the idea of where family fit in with education, health, and travel as well as the connection between those 3 core values, so I thought I'd write a blog post of my own over at Learning Jolt: The Impact of Family on Health, Education, and Travel.

    Keep on writing. It's great to read these.