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Why Waste An Ivy League Education On Mothers? (Or: We're So Glad CBS Didn't Do This Story)

Ivy League educations are being wasted on young women who fully intend to give up their careers someday to become mothers or part-time workers.

That strongly appears to be the unarticulated premise of The New York Times' most e-mailed story yesterday (and still this morning). I am quite certain most of those send buttons were hit in anger, if not fury.

The piece was actually headlined, "Many Women at Elite Colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood." It appeared to be a simple exploration of a trend: that more women now think during their college years that they will eventually be mothers who either don't work, stop working for awhile or work part-time. Increasingly, this article indicates, smart young women don't buy the myth of the SuperMom who does it all or, quite possibly, the careerist who puts professional achievement above all else. That's fine.

Except. And it's a big except: the story strongly implies that there is a raging debate about whether "elite" colleges are wasting their precious resources on mothers. I guess author, Louise Story, is less interested in whether non-elite colleges waste their riches on baby-bearers. Bugger off, Big Ten.

There are so many holes and oddities in this story it's hard to know where to start, so I'll start close to home. At home, in fact.

My wife is both an Ivy League grad and a part-time worker (though you wouldn't know it from the hours she works). Was that Brown degree wasted because she gives her corporate masters three or four days a week, not five? Any objective observer would say that she contributes more to society than I do, though I work full-time. I coach soccer and drive car pool. She is deeply involved in a non-profit, is a room parent at school, volunteers for a gillion other things, cooks for ailing friends and runs a household. Most every husband I know would fare as I do in such a comparison.

And frankly, the same is true of educated mothers who don't work. The idea that their educations are being wasted is really too ludicrous to argue with. Isn't parenting somewhat important? Isn't education a good in itself, with all kinds of intangible social utility? The classic idea of liberal arts is not education for liberals, but education that is necessary for a free people.

I'm writing about this in a journalism blog, however, because the story actually never shows there is any real debate about this alleged controversy -- no real person in the story argues that the Ivies should serve only worker bees. One Harvard dean waxes vaguely philosophic about it. Yet the author ponders possible solutions, like admissions screening.

Perhaps the author was simply trying to dress up a trend story by inventing a non-existent controversy. Or maybe there was some other agenda. I wish I could use more of my education to figure the answer out, but I have to go to work now.

Update:In Slate, Jack Shafer further dissects Ms. Story's story, and it isn't pretty.