Nearly 36 years ago, I was a vibrant high school student meeting with my guidance counselor to select classes for my senior year. Filled with determination, excitement, and positivity that I was selecting courses that would support my future success. I grew up in a small rural community. My guidance counselor knew me well. My father and he served as elders in our church. He and his family had had dinner with my family on a regular basis. I am describing this to highlight that my guidance counselor really knew me. He knew that I planned to study mathematics in college.
Picture the two of us discussing the courses I had selected prior to our meeting…. AP English, AP Calculus, Physics, Spanish 4, French 1, Government/Econ, and a study hall. To my great surprise, this individual that I trusted and considered a mentor within education, reviews my course selection, and says, “I have a few suggestions that will better prepare you for your future.” My thoughts raced to what new course was being offered that I did not know of or would there be additional AP courses offered. Brimming with excitement, I was soon decimated when he said “I strongly suggest that you drop Physics and AP Calculus because you will not need those in your future. You plan on having a husband and family and I just realized that you have never taken a home economics course. It is imperative that you know how to cook, clean, and take care of a household.” I sat there in stunned silence. Before I could collect my whirling thoughts and comment, he began entering my courses with his changes into the master schedule. Notice, he did not suggest that I drop study hall to take a home economics course.
Finally, gathering my courage I asked him to wait. I began by talking about the fact that he knew my family. My mother is a capable homemaker who taught me from a young age how to cook, clean, and take care of a house. But, as much as I love and respect my mother, she could not teach me physics or calculus. I explained that I needed to enroll in these advanced courses to prepare for my college major, Mathematics and a minor in Physics! He paused with his hands hovering over the keyboard. He remained puzzled and had the audacity to say “But how do we know that you have the skills to be a homemaker. The school cannot claim to have done its job if we have no evidence of your skills as a homemaker.” I thought wow, in 12 years of education I never realized that in their eyes none of it mattered as long as I could be a homemaker! Why did the school think their job was to dictate that my life’s worth and goal is being a homemaker?!
Furthermore, my counselor had dinner with my family that I helped prepare and serve, or that my mother and I cleaned and maintained not only our house but the church as well, or that I led and/or participated in youth cooking classes and baking parties, the list goes on. Those events did not count as “evidence” of my abilities?
Nearly 36 years later, I am still disappointed that someone I trusted as an academic mentor was so adamant that I focus on being a homemaker (even though my mother already provided opportunities for me to develop and hone these skills) than to focus on being prepared for success in higher education in the fields of mathematics and science. I am proud that I am a successful businesswoman, mathematician, educator, coach, mother, and homemaker. I have advanced degrees in mathematics and education. My undergraduate work includes majors in both mathematics and physics as well as minors in philosophy, chemistry, business, and coaching. I never enrolled in a home economics course, because I was fortunate that my mother taught me these skills. I believe these courses serve a purpose and are critically important for individuals who need or desire to learn how to cook, clean, and maintain a home.
I think it is evident that this was a pivotal experience in my young life and one that has motivated me to help all students remove barriers and to overcome stereotypes that threaten to block their selected journey. Whether those barriers and stereotypes be based on gender, race, socio-economic status or for any other reason. Every individual has one life and deserves to be afforded the choices to live that life as they decide!
I am a strong woman! I celebrate and uplift all women to have the courage to follow your passions rather than those “strongly suggested” by others. As women, I believe it is our duty to share stories that hopefully encourage others to find their inner courage to be unapologetically female!