What I Learned in College

College was incredibly important for me. It gave me room to learn, grow, and try out new ideas. It gave me space and freedom. It gave me acceptance and encouragement. It gave me new information I had never heard of. In this post, I will explore what I studied and learned in college.
One way in which college was very eye opening to me was that it allowed me to interact with people from a wide range of different backgrounds. I met Episcopalians, agnostics, and people who were gay. I met people from different countries and cultures. I learned that people who are different from me are still caring people with happy fulfilling lives. I suppose I got a big dose of multiculturalism, and that changed me. I found it harder and harder to think that my beliefs were right and theirs were all wrong.
As for my studies, I started out planning to get an education degree. I hoped to graduate with a ring on my finger and marry immediately, but if this did not happen I planned to teach for a time at a Christian school or a charter school. Longer term, I felt that a degree in education would help me homeschool my future children. Beyond my specific degree, I hoped to gain a well-rounded education that would make me an intelligent person and enable me to communicate well. This would help me to be an adequate partner to my future husband and, I hoped, support him in future political campaigns. My goal was to be well educated.
My parents gave me a fairly good homeschool education, and I tested out of a number of college classes. I was well prepared to study and to learn. Yet while my parents had given me the tools I needed to learn, they had only given me one side of every argument, be it scientific  religious, or political. I only had half the information. College enabled me to hear the other side without pressure or expectation, and that was life changing.
My parents believe that college brainwashed me. To be perfectly honest, when I started changing my views I spent many hours very worried that I was being brainwashed, simply because I had been taught that that is what college professors would try to do. But this wasn’t the case. My professors never told me what to believe; rather, they gave me information and let me do what I saw fit with it. There was no enforced dogma except critical thinking and open exploration of evidence and information. My professors urged me to think, not to think the way they thought. They taught me how to think, not what to think. They didn’t brainwash me, they opened my mind.
Let me offer some examples of classes that made me rethink my positions and beliefs:
Global Studies – This is where I first learned about fundamentalism from a scholarly perspective. I learned that it was a global phenomenon, that it was brand new and didn’t go back much more than a century, and that was in many ways a simple reaction to modernity. I knew right then that this is what my parents were, and how I grew up. And yet, the class simply explored the phenomenon, it didn’t offer judgement. Yet it started me on a path toward exploring my parents’ views from a scientific and scholarly perspective, rather than from a devotional perspective.
I also learned about U.S. hegemony abroad in this class. I learned about the ways in which America had dominated the world, actions that frequently had negative consequences for countries around the world. I learned that the U.S. maintains hundreds or military bases across the globe. I found that the U.S. has not always acted as a beacon of freedom, and has actually generally acted in favor of its own interest and actually frequently against the very ideals it claims to hold. I learned to understand why many countries hate and resent us.
Studies of the Family – In this class I learned about a diversity of different family types. We explored the meaning of the family throughout history and across racial and class boundaries. This helped decenter and historicize the nuclear family for me.
Multicultural Studies – For this class I had to do a project on the problems gay people face in college and in college dorms. I think the professor assigned me this on purpose, because it was during freshman year and I was still pretty homophobic. For this project I had to meet gay students, and learn about the discrimination they face. I essentially had to get inside their heads and see things from their perspectives. This was really beneficial for me.
Studies in Science – This class taught me a bit about the history of science and how it works. I learned to see science not as a secular conspiracy but rather as an attempt to understand how the world works and why. At the end of this class, I had come to accept the scientific evidence behind both evolution and climate change. But again, it’s not like anyone forced me to change these beliefs or anything; rather, I looked at them with open eyes, a better interest in science, and an interest in understanding and found that there was overwhelming evidence for both.
History of the Middle East – This class was extremely eye-opening. I had no idea how badly the U.S. and the West in general had treated the Middle East, or how many problems they had created there. I realized through this class that it’s no wonder so many people in the Middle East resent us. They seriously have good reason. This class removed any remaining support I might have had for the U.S.’s foreign policy and national mythology, and it also killed the unthinking support for the nation of Israel that I had been raised with.

History of Witchcraft, Magic, and Science - In this class, I learned about witchcraft and magic from a scholarly perspective. Suddenly it all made sense in historical, social, and scientific terms, and there was no need to imbue it with supernatural meaning. I feel like this was a recurring theme for me. The more I really understood things, the less I needed the supernatural to explain them. And indeed, I learned about the birth of science and the way that it little by little eliminated the need for supernatural explanations and lessened the authority of magic. I came to see the supernatural as something historically employed by people ignorant of how the world works to explain phenomenon they couldn’t understand. Once I saw the past in these terms, I had to wonder about my own beliefs.

History of Modern Europe – This is where I learned that “socialism” is not a bad thing, and that it can actually be very, very good. In some ways it was this class that made me a social democrat. I’d always been told that if we weren’t careful the U.S. would go the way of Europe and decline. I learned in this class that Europe is, well, doing pretty well. Decades of socialized medicine and socialized childcare haven’t done it any harm, and actually, Europeans have higher happiness and health ratings than do Americans, along with lower drug rates, murder rates, violent crime rates, and poverty rates. I came to understand social democracy and understand the European system, rather than seeing it as some evil “other.” Now don’t get me wrong, Europe’s not perfect: they have internal conflict over what to do about immigration and now debt crises. But it’s not like it’s any worse than the U.S., which has both of these problems AND higher crime, worse health, lower happiness, etc. This class killed what American exceptionalism I had left.
History of the 1960s – This is the class where I learned that I was a feminist. I’d already faced conflict with my parents and knew I didn’t believe what they did, but I still thought feminists were selfish baby-haters. In fact, the word “feminazi” came to me more easily than the word “feminist.” But in this class I learned about the problems that necessitated the rise of second wave feminism, and as I did so I became more and more angry. Angry that men had kept women oppressed, paid them less for the same jobs, kept them out of college, and even at one time deprived them of the right to own property or even a legal identity. My inner rage grew until I declared myself a feminist with gusto. I realized, too, that many of the problems these women fought against are still with us today. The revolution isn’t over, and I resolved to do my utmost to complete it.

This class did something more, though. It helped me historicize the rise of the New Right and revealed its racist and classist origins. I suddenly saw the religious right (and the New Right in general) as a problematic social phenomenon rather than as unchanging truth or as a Biblical injunction. Furthermore, I learned about the New Left of the 1960s and read its Port Huron Statement. I could not understand how a movement which embraced such ideals as democracy, equality, and global brotherhood and fought to end poverty, racism, materialism, militarism, and exploitation could be evil or selfish as I had been taught. At this point, I aligned myself solidly with the political left and left the right behind forever. This transition was aided by the fact that I had already taken the class on modern Europe one semester before, and had there lost my fear of socialism.

I didn’t end up getting a degree in education. Instead, I became more and more intrigued by the humanities and social sciences, especially as I began to have issues with my parents, and so I moved in that direction. I was fascinated by trying to figure out where my parents and their beliefs came from. I wanted to figure out where I came from. I wanted to understand who I was. The humanities and social sciences helped me do this, and I found that invigorating. College for me was about figuring out who I was and what I believed. I am incredibly thankful my parents sent me to college. Unfortunately, they didn’t like the changes they saw in me and ended up decided they’d made a mistake to send me at all. Rather than seeing me becoming my own person, they saw me being ruined and led astray by worldly teachings. Based on my experiences, it’s really pretty easy to see why organizations like Vision Forum advise against sending daughters – or even sons – away to college.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Anonymous

    You maintain there was no enforced dogma at college, and yet all of your positions land on the left end of the spectrum.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Anon – Did you miss where I came to all these conclusions myself? There was no "enforced dogma," simply information and an invitation to think. No one was forcing anyone to believe anything, least of all me.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Anon – I know people who came through college on the right end of the spectrum, too, and some who became more conservative in college. And these individuals had just fine GPAs. So long as you study, understand the material, and do the work asked of you, no one cares which side you take. Seriously.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10374620768794536239 Sheena

    Anon – I am in my last semester at a "Christian" college. I am still a Christian (though I transitioned from Baptist to Episcopalian)…And, like Libby Anne, I have become more liberal. It's not a "Liberal Agenda" thing. Some of us discover that what we really believe is not the same as what we've been told to believe.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Also, the point of this post wasn't to start fights. Someone said they were curious what I studied/learned in college, so I wrote up a post. Feel free to disagree if you like, but please don't turn this thread into a debate, because that is NOT the point. Sheena – Isn't it freeing to be able to choose your beliefs for yourself, instead of being told what to believe? I love it!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06260771518561377916 Breanna

    Did your parents prevent your younger siblings from going to college?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10374620768794536239 Sheena

    Oh, it's wonderful…I have to be more careful with a few faculty members (one of the literature professors is very set in his ways, and I have experienced lower grades when my opinion is different from his — he claims I "misinterpret" the assignments, which is crap), but it's lovely to have my own opinions.I think it helped that I started college later (at 23; I'm 27 now) and have the benefit of a few more years and a bit more life experience, plus my second major (sorta), education, involves interacting with kids in the area — lots of different kids, from different cultural and religious backgrounds, and many living difficult, impoverished lives. It's a lot harder to stick to a rigid ideology when the victims of that ideology are sweet kids who did nothing wrong. Besides, I like wine :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Breanna – My siblings' stories are theirs to tell, and many of them haven't even reached college yet. So far the answer is no, my parents haven't prevented them from going to college, but they've been a bit more selective about which college and a lot more wary of the idea of a secular college. As for the rest, only the future will tell. Sheena – I like what you say about the kids you work with, because that's something I have come to realize too. I may have been taught some crazy things about female submission and the female role, but I was raised in an upper middle class family with an incredible amount of privilege. Not everyone is so lucky. And when I realized that, it sort of changed how I saw the world.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13930917517196516292 Jason Dick

    Wonderful post, Libby Anne! I had a similar awakening at the university I went to, though the details were very different: I studied physics, and hardly took any humanities. So I learned the bits and pieces that make me a staunch liberal on the side. But my physics classes taught me how to think, how to be sure when I was right and how to know when I couldn't be sure. Over the years I have gradually gotten more and more liberal, as I have learned more and more.That said, I'd like to talk a little bit about the debt issue, since your wording seems to me a bit wrong. I don't mean to criticize (much…), more to inform.Anyway, the "debt crisis" in the United States was totally and utterly manufactured. This was a political crisis, not an economic one. And the President had (and has) multiple options available to him to avoid the crisis entirely, such as coin seigniorage. You can see that the US doesn't actually have a debt problem right now by looking at the interest rates. Right now, the inflation-protected bonds have *negative* interest rates out to ten years. That's right, investors are now paying the US government to borrow more money. So we have the exact opposite of a debt crisis in the US: we have a crisis of not enough government debt. And a failure to borrow more money and spend it is the entire reason why unemployment remains so high.Of course, what I just said above is still controversial in some economic circles. But I've never seen a coherent argument as to why it isn't right (the economic models of the naysayers claim that interest rates on government debt should have started soaring since the crisis began…instead they have plummeted, as the model I'm using predicted all along).The debt crises in Europe are entirely different, and the result of a bad decision made nearly 20 years ago: the Euro. The Euro prevents member nations from printing their own money. And the ability to print your own money is of fundamental importance when you are facing a major economic shock. Even nations like Germany and France, the strongest Eurozone nations, can't borrow at the same rates that the US can. And nations like Italy, which don't have major structural difficulties, are now facing the very real prospect of debt default. The only way out of this is for the ECB and the central European economies to act boldly and aggressively to aid the periphery of the Eurozone. But all of their rhetoric has been in the exact opposite direction, so much so that Paul Krugman is now worrying that the Euro could entirely unravel over the course of a few weeks. I wouldn't care to put odds on that worry, but it's scary that it's even a concern.Europe may be a lot better in many respects than the US, but right now the Euro and political paralysis are threatening to undo a lot of that in most European nations.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Jason – Thanks for the clarification. I think the point I was really trying to make was simply that the European debt crises isn't necessarily a product of "socialism," which you point out by tying it to the Euro. I am indeed aware that the two situations are a bit different and that the problem in the U.S. – and the Tea Party – are quite trumped up. That said, I'm not an economist, so I generally leave the details of all that up to them. :-)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16515377305539822004 camden

    Great post. I too came from an upper middle class background but I had enough awareness of the world outside my suburban nest to see the injustices. I probably, if anything came out of college a little less liberal than I went in. (which I note just for the sake of the discussion with yr first commanter. As noted above colleges, by and large, give their students a safe place to explore different ideas, and if done correctly students learn how to think and evaluate the ideas they are exposed to. If seems that this was your experience and I for one am thankful that you were afforded such a great opportunity. Yay education! :-)

  • http://skjaere.livejournal.com/ skjaere

    This is a wonderful, articulate post. I just recently discovered your blog and have really been enjoying it. My background was decidedly more mixed than yours. My mother homeschooled me and my sister part-time for a few grades, and called herself a liberal until I was in highschool. She she was born again around the time I was in 11th grade, which was far too late for me. However, although I was fairly liberal, I had very little understanding of politics or social issues ("gay" was a pretty abstract concept to me, and I still thought of abortion as killing babies). My college experience was also different, since I chose to go overseas to Scotland. There wasn't any core curriculum, and since I wanted to be an archaeologist, I was pretty well immersed in Medieval History for four years, with a little English and Moral Philosophy on the side. I'm 32 now, and it's only in the past year or so that I've started educating myself on social issues and politics, doing a lot of reading and FINALLY breaking through my political wishy-washiness and calling myself a feminist. So well done to you, learning your own mind and embracing critical thought at this early stage of your life. May you do great and wonderful things.

  • jose

    That was wonderful. I'm glad college has been what it's supposed to be for someone.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Camden, Skjaere, and Jose – Thank you for your kind comments! You are all right that this is the goal of education, and this is what makes it so important. Education enables us to form our own views and to see outside of whatever bubble we were raised in.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17427383503777946860 nude0007

    My college experience was similar too. It opened my eyes to new ways of thinking, especially an Anthropology elective which showed me the basis for communities and societies even on a primitive tribal scale, and a World Geography course that showed me how religion was a direct result of geography and climate. Moved me quite a bit towards my current atheistic pov.

  • Anonymous

    College gave me the opportunity to learn to look at things critically, which hugely enabled me to seek out my own views, but my change in views did not actually happen while I was in college, but rather two or three years later after I left to get married.I fought my parents to go to college, my parents didn't want to let me. Because of that I felt pressure to "prove" that I could uphold "my" beliefs. When I came across something that challenged my beliefs, I looked for a way to justify it or explain it away. Then I got to the upper level academics classes. Starting with Ethics, and then going on to Philosophy, and Humanities & the Arts, and Mythology and Pop Culture. It was these discussions in these classes that I learned I had a voice too, and when people listened to me(seriously nobody ever did on these things before) I had to back up my opinions and views. NEVER in my whole life at home was I put in a situation where I was given an ear to my voice or challenged to back up what I say. Ask "why?" when I parroted what I had been told for years.Finding myself and what *I* thought was a journey for me, and college gave me the tools to do so. Actually learning to question myself, eventually lead to my search for legitimate fulfilling answers that satisfied myself before all else, years later.