Back to School: The Case for majoring in English
Let me preface this by saying I’m an online instructor. Nearly every student I come in contact with is either a child development, information technology, criminal justice, business, nursing, or psych major. Occasionally we would get a liberal studies major intent on teaching elementary school. But in the realm of online majors, that’s pretty much it.
(I won’t even go into the whining from my students as they write persuasive essays regarding their fear of immigration and all of India coming over to take their jobs. You want HB-1 visa immigrants to stop taking your jobs? How about majoring in science, engineering, and math? Too hard? Alright then. Shush. )
Today’s online student and increasingly today’s traditional student as well, is treating college not so much as a place of higher learning, critical thinking, and broadening of the mind, but instead a vocational training ground for what are sometimes non-existent job prospects. Remember in the early 90s how everyone was a graphic arts major? Welcome today’s version of criminal justice. My husband is in IT and we've watched companies get rid of their in-house IT people left and right.
Students are spending thousands for very specific majors. Textbooks for these majors can amount to $90 for a paperback book. In four years, the jobs they are training for might be gone, curtailed, or outsourced. I don’t want to burst their bubbles. I say nothing. And personally, except for nursing which truly does have a shortage, I don’t know that I’m too keen on there being more cops, more self-esteem boosting majors like Child Dev. and Psych. I mean, isn’t the great American problem that we can’t take a freaking joke?
So with this all in mind, I offer the best major of all American majors—the one with the most job options, cheapest on books, and frugal on investment—the English major. Don’t laugh. Hear me out. You need reasons?
While in school these are the frugal and quality of life perks you can hope to enjoy.
•Textbooks. While still in college being an English major already saves you money. While most of your fellow college students are schlepping off to the campus bookstore to buy textbooks only found there or on a few college sanctioned websites at jacked up prices, you get to squander hours in used book stores and Amazon and eBay. I have an Elizabethan Prose and Poetry book that retailed in a college bookstore for $65 in 1990 which I bought used on the top of some dusty used book shelf for $2. You don’t really have to worry about which ‘editions’ you pick up. Most of things you’ll be reading are from dead people with little or no royalties owed them. And after your initial surveys you can take things in any order. My best friend sprung for the big Riverside Shakespeare edition in the fall semester and then I borrowed it from her to take the same class in the spring while she borrowed all my Milton. English is the cheapest major for books.
•Depression. While in college, you tend to be less depressed as an English or World Lit major—saving you valuable cash money that could otherwise be squandered on therapy. You get to read Crime and Punishment, so you don’t need therapy. Dostoevsky spells it out for you. That sounds weird doesn’t it? My most depressed moments in college weren’t with English majors, they were those moments in general education classes with future elementary school teachers who said things like “Ohmigod! Do we have to, like, read, all these books in one semester?!” Now that totally depresses me. I don’t want my kid in her second grade class, that’s for sure.
•Non-Impacted. I remember trying to get into some class for my minor and being waitlisted with no chance of getting in. And then it occurred to me in that same time slot was Modern Critical Theory. I ran across campus hoping not to be late. Wait a minute, I said to myself, sweat dripping off my brow, why am I running? Sure enough there were only 10 students in the class and the professor looked at me gratefully as I stumbled in late and asked if I could add it. This doesn’t happen in the major du jour departments.
•Better Parties and Drinking. Sure, there might be keggers a plenty down at the frat house with the business majors, but you just got to try a 30 year old single malt scotch that your Irish poetry and prose professor brought to class to make the class more ambient while you watch slides of his favorite pubs in Dublin. After all, you’ve just finished a slew of Yeats and Joyce. You can’t buy that sort of story.
•Coolest part-time jobs. English majors get hired to work in bars, bookstores, and record stores. We take all the cool jobs you wish you had. There’s a bookstore in San Francisco that seems to only hire college graduates and what did they major in? You guessed it—English.
•Heads up on the Surreal. Let’s face it. Life after college becomes this weird surreal madness of social networking, begging for work, allegiances that might go nowhere and the randomness of landing a job because you sat next to the right person on a plane even though you know next to nothing about the job the nice man in the suit wants to give you. Only great literature prepares you for the absurd.
And after you’ve graduated and you are looking for work and you are wondering just how those seminars on Gertrude Stein, William Faulkner and that other one on the Existential Novels from Germany and France are benefiting you think about this:
Critical Thinking in the Mad, Mad, World. My first job out of college was at a newspaper where the first thing the editor said to me was, “English major? Good! You can think!” Apparently it’s what we are known for. We’ve been writing random papers for four years comparing and contrasting things with no similarities whatsoever. We’ve given esoteric a new name. We’ve written twenty page papers on poems of ten lines. This translates straight into the real world. No task too odd or strange. We are at the desk immediately researching any wacky thing a boss can throw at us and we do it with a smile. After all, we are the kind of people who can play Scrabble for days on end without getting bored. Corporate America loves us for this. You will be hired for your ability to take weirdness and run with it. The creative mind!
•Vague Enough to Encompass Anything. The English majors I know and love from undergraduate days to graduate school to now have a diverse resume of careers: lawyers, politicians, K-12 teachers, professors , writers and editors of all genres, small business owners, web designers, bartenders, singers, waitresses, IT analysts, preschool teachers, librarians, artists, graphic designers, and seasonal forestry workers. None of them have gone into Nursing that I know of, but other than that, they’ve covered all the bases that the more popular majors insist are the only way to fly. The English major yields many more job opportunities. The average person sometimes is even a little afraid of the English major. It works to your advantage.
And so incoming freshmen, it might first appear that becoming an English major is antiquated and useless in our contemporary high tech age, but I think you’d be sorely mistaken to take this view. College should be about experiencing the world and the English major will get you there without the investment of expensive technology or books—and how else will you get to read about bestiality in early American Puritan settlements, write papers on it, and get an A?