The Value of an English Major

A friend of mine on face book posted this opinion piece from the NY Times Sunday Review on the loss of the English major in education. Below is my response.

I guess I’m more pragmatic about the topic. I’ve always thought writing well, and reading well, should carry its own reward, and I believe it does, regardless of ones avocation. If this is true, then I’m pretty sure we’ll start to see previous business majors sheepishly come back to school willing to do the hard work of learning to write, even if it is based on the desire to give themselves a leg up on the competition.

There is a corollary to this point, which is also important; that is if writing well and reading well are not a virtue, then they should go the way of the buggy whip. I also believe this to be true. Seriously, if you can write like a pro, and still cannot explain the value of writing to our culture at large, either you’ve over estimated your wiring skills or its value.

As I alluded to above, I think the “real” reason we’re seeing a drop in English majors is because learning to write is hard work. Most people would rather take an easier path, and they will up until they discover that easy and fast doesn’t always equate with best. Some day these skimmers of “internet facts” these believers in a Cliffs Notes education will come across an enemy who has taken the time to read “The Prince”, or pretty much anything of Shakespeare, and will happily eviscerateĀ those poor souls (with words alone, one hopes) who thought skimming a good replacement for deep thought. Yes, the pen is mightier than the sword, bitch, and I keep mine sharp.

I’ve always thought the proper reason for an English degree–although I guess it applies to the whole of the humanities–was for someone who still did not know what they wanted to be when they grow up. This is not intended to be a slight, even today at the tender age of 50 I am not sure of what I want to be when I grow up. There is a genuine need for people to learn in university the skills they will use to discover themselves and the world.