A letter to my mom, who thinks I’m brainwashed
We talk all the time. Maybe a little too much, because our conversations have gone off the rails recently and into darker territory. In one of our recent arguments, I mentioned that my master’s degree is in communication. Finding the meaning in rhetoric and knowing when a source is credible…that’s what I’m good at. It informs my argument when I talk about media and communication. That should count for something.
And then you told me that education doesn’t mean anything.
I was dumbstruck when you said this. You, the one who encouraged me to go to school and read and write. The one who has always praised how smart and thoughtful I am. The one who wanted opportunities for me that you didn’t have.
If it doesn’t mean anything, I said, then I wasted $70k and seven years of my life.
I know it might be hard for someone who has only taken a few college classes to understand the amount of learning that goes into a degree. But dismissing my education is like saying that no one can ever know anything. If we can’t learn, then we cannot know. And I think it’s pretty clear that humans know a lot of things about the world. We have created medicine, we have built amazing structures, we have sent people into space. We’ve also created a system of news to inform the world. And just because you are not educated in a subject does not devalue the words of those who are.
I don’t want to make personal attacks or say that your beliefs are not valid. I believed the same things you did once, after all. I understand why you believe the things you do.
When I was little, I grew up hearing the rhetoric that I still hear by conservative pundits today. I didn’t know much beyond that, and the criticisms you and dad gave anything to the contrary. Everything you said and did was right. You have always been such a kind, generous person. That kind of person can’t be wrong in the eyes of a child.
My views changed, as you know, once I moved away from home. I got my degree in English Literature and journalism, and a master’s degree in Mass Communication. I remember you warning me against being ‘brainwashed by liberal professors.’ I steeled myself for the outside influence I was sure I, a strong-willed conservative, would resist.
What I was met with was something different, on the whole. There were a few professors who blatantly shared liberal beliefs, but they were not the ones to sway me. Over the course of seven years, my beliefs were changed, not because of any one professor, but because of the principles I’d learned about communication and journalism.
You probably think some professors taught me which liberal stations and sites were the only ‘real’ news. In truth, I did learn to identify credible news sources that I would grow to trust. But the real persuasion came from my own new skills. As a journalist, I learned the elements I needed to make my own articles credible. I needed evidence. I needed to source my information and link directly to it. I needed to get firsthand information where I could, and find trusted, objective sources where I couldn’t. I needed to use language that made an effort not to sway the reader to a desired conclusion.
But further than that, almost more than my journalism background, my English background taught me how to analyze text. There, I learned to look for connotations in the words used. I look at the information given and determine what is relative and what is speculative. I learned to see the ideologies pieces play off of, assumptions that are made about the reader, assumptions that are made about society. And most of all, my English courses encouraged me to read many diverse, unique voices, from experts in scientific fields to stories that help me understand human struggles that are not my own.
This isn’t to say I’m always right about the subjects I’ve studied. I’ve never been right about everything, nor will I ever be. I resolve to keep learning and keep evolving, which is what I encourage you to do as well.
I believe there is something to be said for standing up for what you believe in, and sometimes you will always return to a conclusion you made long ago. Everyone does this. But I encourage you to see me, not as a child who is brainwashed, but as a woman and intellectual whose curiosity has led her to new conclusions and beliefs.
Lastly, I want you to know I bring up these discussions because I believe you are intelligent and caring. I don’t do this to make you or me feel bad for being uneducated. What I want is to show you possibilities that I was not shown, and much less championed, in our family’s bubble. I want to be that good influence for you that my college learning was to me. I believe we all need to hear different perspectives, and right now I hope I’m challenging yours.