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In Defense of English Majors

Updated on May 20, 2013

Do you or did you study English?

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The power of knowledge lies within the pages of a book. To obtain it, you must first open it, then read it, and finally understand it.
The power of knowledge lies within the pages of a book. To obtain it, you must first open it, then read it, and finally understand it. | Source

I’ve seen some articles floating around the Internet about how certain college majors (particularly English) are, and this is their word and not mine, useless. English? Really? The language spoken by the majority world and being taught in numerous countries, including China, Japan, and India to name a few? The major that teaches the skills of writing, editing, and clearly forming something as great as an idea to something as small as a sentence? They trash the teaching of literature, of writing, and of comprehension? What is this, an anti-intellectual culture? This is where I draw the line and defend the major I chose as a freshman in college and still value to this very day. But what can be said about the English major? What makes it so great that I should defend it? I can give four reasons why this major should be getting more respect than it has been receiving.

1. Proper Grammar.

It’s bad enough seeing chat and text speak in everyday life, but it’s casual so not much help could come through complaining. But when you find emoticons or emojis in your books, then it’s time to remind yourself why English major is still necessary. A novel came recently where they wrote the whole thing in these emojis, the little pictures made famous via text messages from the iPhone. This offender of literature and art as a whole is called Emoji Dick. From the original classic by Herman Melville, Moby Dick is rewritten with images used in text messages. And so marks the day in which literature has started to die. Or, more humorously as Al Roker of The Today Show said when introduced to this “book”, “And beyond the horizon is the end of civilization.” I could understand the cave paintings, as complex languages have yet to be developed. This cannot be defined as literature because not only are there cutesy smiley faces and symbols instead of words but also because they defaced a classic literary work that delves into the theme of dark obsession. The beauty of the work came from the words written on the pages and when replaced with little smiley faces, the beauty is diminished. It is from the correct and coherent grammar that shows us the message we can take from Captain Ahab’s dark and insane obsession. If you want to read the book, go ahead and you won’t be disappointed. If you want to know the story and its deeper meaning without flipping through the pages, go rent one of the many film or television adaptations of it; you won’t get the full story but you’ll get the general gist. But don’t buy the amalgamation of a literary masterpiece and the idiotic use of emojis (unless you’re buying it ironically).

2. Vocabulary and The Proper Use of Words.

In an everyday conversation, you may find yourself having trouble find the right words to get your point across. It’s hardly ever a proud moment when you’re stumbling to use that one word that exemplifies your entire point. But there is something worse and that’s using the wrong word all together. For the best possible example of today, politicians really love throwing this word around, especially recently: “entitlements.” What is the definition of entitlement? An entitlement is, according to Dictionary.com, “the right to guaranteed benefits under a government program, as Social Security or unemployment compensation.” Like finding a piece of damning evidence in a high-profile case, I quote the lead detective: Ah-ha! Through close analysis (a technique I will explain shortly), we can now see the real meaning of those so-called “entitlements” that we are indeed entitled to us on the grounds that we have the right to them. What they are trying to say is actually a false sense of entitlement, not entitlement in and of itself. When I say false sense of entitlement, it is clear what I am trying to convey, the feeling in which one feels that are guaranteed something, but in actuality are not qualified for it. Now knowing that, you can see through the fog politicians, regardless of what side they represent, have placed over us to avoid the facts. When you know the definition of the word people try to use in order to manipulate their point rather than rightfully send it across intelligently, then you know who’s trying to pull a fast one on you and who knows exactly what they’re talking about.

3. The Close Analysis.

Close analysis is a technique primarily taught in the college level, which is essentially taking a passage from a work of writing and dissecting it. When you hear the word “dissect”, your mind might wander to thoughts of high school biology class; it is like that, though a lot less messy and more abstract than concrete. The reason I say this is because the technique requires both a dictionary to define certain keywords and the ability to sense the connotations of such keywords. One example to decipher is the opening lines of Shakespeare’s Richard III: “Now is our winter of discontent/ Made glorious summer by this son of York.” This is an easier one compared to other passages as the use of seasons as symbols are made familiar through experiences. Winter is a season associated with longer nights and colder weather, enough to make anyone discontent; winter is also associated with the season of death, where the plants die, and is therefore the season of death, meaning the death of their discontent. What will come of this death of winter will be the immediate change to the season of longer days, warmth, and the complete revitalization of life, or in this case the people’s satisfaction. Who will bring this so-called “glorious summer”? Why, it is the speaker himself, the son of York, Richard of Gloucester, soon to be known as King Richard III. Granted, this is an example using literature, though the close analysis technique is not limited to such. Next time someone you’re talking to someone, looking over a contract, or when you’re listening to a speech, try to listen closely and use this technique, along with critical thinking (we’ll get to that soon), to see what they’re all really trying to say.

4. Critical Thinking.

Critical thinking is the glue that holds all of this together. It is the deep thought process that allows you understand the questions asked in more abstract and intellectual terms. This makes sense out statements that would not make sense to untrained ear, fooling those who cannot and will not use that precious noggin of theirs. Because of that, critical thinking is a dangerous thing to those in some form of power. If there is at least one person capable to question all that does not seem right, then it could spread like a virus, or in this case a vaccine as it does more good than harm. The big majors nowadays are business, accounting, and engineering. These are important but they lack critical thinking skills. The main point of business is to understand business practices, accounting is to understand investing practices, and engineering is to build structurally sound bridges and all else in the infrastructure of a society. Are they necessary? No question, but should everyone go for these because they’re the “hot” majors? Absolutely not! Everyone has a skill they are adept in and not necessarily math (at least advanced math such as calculus and trigonometry), which leads to the question would we rather have people who are trained in a field they’re terrible in, which would eventually lead to their unemployment, or people who are trained in a skill that they are naturally gifted in? Frankly I would choose the latter, though the latter is a more difficult path, but with a good head on your shoulders, you’ll find what makes you happy. At the end of the day, if you’re not happy, you’re miserable, and you don’t need critical thinking to figure that out.

So the next time someone tells you that the English major is worthless, use these skills to show them what for. You’d be surprised how much they’d back off when they’re going toe-to-toe against someone even slightly more informed than they are. In fact, they might be violating their own lessons, as they may have been English majors in their college careers and are only ranting about this as means to discourage others. The irony is they tend to write articles using skills that an English major has learned in order to get their point across, which I call the English Major Paradox. Even though they’ll still fight to push their beliefs to others but they’ll always forget one aspect that will never be worthless: knowledge.

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