Sunday, February 2, 2014

A modest defense of the English major

As a student at a private Christian liberal arts college, I have worries about my future. Not because I don't think I'm getting a quality education or that my experiences haven't been good for me, but because debt is scary. On top of that, I want to make a living writing stuff. What kind of plan is that?

This is one reason I'm a professional writing major. The idea is to learn the skills and business techniques necessary to work in a variety of writing careers. I haven't regretted this decision, but before I knew pro writing existed as a major, I considered other options.

I looked down the path of getting an English major as far as I could and took another road. I doubted if I should ever look back. I couldn't how imagine doing something I admittedly enjoyed -- reading cool stuff for four years -- would prepare me to get a job.

Now I think that may not be the point.

College nowadays has basically turned into career training, or even pre-training. There's some merit to this, but that has more to do with our society today than with education. I firmly believe that learning literature, philosophy, mathematics and science make you better because of what they do to your mind. This should help you in your career the same way it helps you in your life (says the 20-year-old undergrad). English majors, who study all kinds of writing from all periods of history and genres, are immersed in this on a level unequaled since when that was what education was. It's whole-person education to the core, since looking at what writers have been writing about through the ages is about as close to majoring in the universe as you can get, in my opinion.

Getting a job is a whole 'nother story. I admit, nowadays a paying job is kind of essential, at least for the kinds of people who go to college because we've been told it's what we need to do to get a job. In my ideal college situation, this whole education (which is basically what university means, by the way) would occur mixed in with all the important career training. Getting a degree, however, doesn't necessarily mean that's happened. (Read this interesting blog post from Art of Manliness and its accompanying comments for more on that head.) I also think there are a lot of people who aren't as good at teaching themselves how to do things as teachers are (definitely true for me), which is one reason the experience is important.

Of course, you should still consider whether the experience is worth it for the price. Consider the first two minutes of this video.

So, if college isn't the be-all, end-all solution for finding a job, why would someone even consider an English major, which (after underwater basketweaving) is becoming the poster major for pointlessness? In the words of the immortal Lizzie Bennet, "There are lots of business majors who can't get jobs right now. There are no guaranteed careers for our generation, and since everything's a risk, might as well take a risk on something you love."

So go study physics or microbiology or social work or writing or English -- not because it will get you a job, but because education is important.

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