I always seem to end up in comment threads on Reddit where people are bashing English degrees as useless, calling them a total waste of money, time and resources. And I always want to respond to these people because I don’t think they are correct, but know I shouldn’t because it’s not worth arguing to an audience of primarily males in technology and science fields. Understandably, they don’t value the study of the English language the same way I do.
Then again, I don’t go around calling an Information Systems degree a waste of time, do I? I respect the hard work and thought that goes into a math degree, or a biology degree. Those aren’t fields I would have been successful in, and I am glad there are people out there who are interested in taking care of that work for me. But of course, not everyone approached the argument the same way I do.
So, I want to take a moment to partially vent and to also explain why English degrees are just as important as Engineering and Science degrees.
1) You know those tv shows you love to watch when you get home from a long day in the lab? English majors probably wrote those, or people who studied some other form of art that you find equally useless. Do you really want to watch a tv show that an engineer wrote? The exceedingly rare duel-talented master engineer/writer aside, you probably don’t.
2) How about those magazines or internet articles on your smartphone that you read while on the toilet during your daily bowel movement? Chances are, someone who studied English or journalism wrote those. True, they may also have had a side interest in technology or a random passion for bridges that led them to pursue architectural writing, but they still studied English to develop their skills as writers so that that article you’re reading isn’t riddled with errors.
3) That thing we all live in, you know, society? Yeah, English majors help make that possible. A society may as well be full of robots (read: cybermen) instead of people if it lacks the various forms of creative expression–art, literature, music, etc. These are the things that make us human. They evoke feelings and inspire us. They are part of what make life worth living. Sure, science and technology help make our lives easier, but they are also conduits of those expressions, allowing us better access to the things that make sure being stuck on this giant rock for 80+ years doesn’t totally suck.
4) Ppl dat tak lke dis would never stop unless people who study English become teachers and correct the little bastards that think chat speak is ever acceptable outside of a text message to someone who already has a low opinion of them.
5) English majors can truly do anything. An English degree teaches you communication skills and big-picture thinking, but it also allows for so much more than that. Studying English allows you to pick your focus, to choose what you’re passionate about and explore it. What if you love the English language, to make words fit well together, to communicate ideas and explore them in depth? What if you also love computers? Or video games? Or single-cell organisms? These are the areas that English majors, after figuring out the basics (using literature) are able to explore and discuss. English majors are not limited to books, they simply start out with them and continue to grow from there.
Now, I won’t argue with the fact that too many students are becoming English majors and coming out saddled with debt and only a job at a coffee shop to sustain them. It happens far too often. And it’s not good. But it’s not the degree they chose that was useless–it was most likely the advice they got along the way, or the lack there of, that led them to that end result.
English majors can’t approach the educational experience the same way a computer engineering student would, because if every English major takes their studies at face value and only practices the literary-focused work that is set in front of them, then yes, they probably will be unemployed for years after graduation because the world just doesn’t have that many uses for literary scholars.
English majors need to look at their studies as only a fraction of their learning experience. English courses can’t be the totality of one’s learning experience. That’s why I don’t think English majors are taking the easy way out. In fact, they are taking a much harder path. They have to learn the skills of a scholar–deep thinking, close reading, supporting an argument, consolidating big ideas and explaining them for others to understand–and then also learn about something else so that when they get out of school they have an interest to pursue and can use the skills of an English major to help them pursue it.
Studying English give us to the tools to do what ever we want to do, but it’s up to us to figure out what the hell that is.
So screw the haters, English is not a worthless degree. It’s priceless. (Aside for all those student loans, of course.)