As I sat on the couch watching the Sunday morning news a commercial came on promoting a non-profit organization that was working to encourage kids to enroll in more math and science programs. It occurred to me, why are we always encouraging kids to study math and science and yet nobody is encouraging students to study English? Why? (caution I am now climbing on my soapbox). Everybody is fascinated by Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, but if these gentlemen opened their mouth’s and said, “y’know, dude, it’s like, uh, a thing, that does stuff that like, lets you write junk and, uh, you can then like, send it to people, y’know? and then people like get it, and like uh, read it…” Would their companies be as successful? The truth is that nobody thinks of the importance of writing or speaking properly until they see or hear somebody do it wrong and then that person is left vulnerable. Nobody is there when their resume is read in the HR office and then laughed at because the basic grammar and speech patterns are so horrendous. Every administrator or politician talks about the importance of reading and writing and yet, when the money gets passed around the first place it goes is to pay for more computers, science equipment, etc. It is not spent on writing centers, books, and other reading and writing tools that are essential for success.
When I decided to major in English the only career option presented to me was teaching. I was NOT an education major. I refused. I worked in online media for ten years and used my degree every day. As a project manager I wrote status reports, communicated with clients, but most importantly I was able to take large complex problems and break them down into smaller pieces. After all that is what you do when you read a book. You look at the whole, understand it, look for patterns, examine it’s components, see the connections and than communicate those relationships to other people. When you put together an ad campaign or a website it is the same process. Studying English teaches you how to identify the undefined problem and then how to think about the problem so you can find a solution. Wouldn’t we be a better country, a better society if we had more creative problem solvers? And how do you teach creative problem solving? You give them Walt Whitman to read, and Ernest Hemingway, Shakespeare, Dickens, et al.
And yet, when we think about encouraging education, and student learning, we think about math scores, science scores and how we get more kids enrolled in math and science. Our students will never appreciate the value of writing, reading and speaking properly if the adults reponsible for funding their education don’t start valuing it first. Why are these most important skills so frequently discounted and treated like second class citizens in the education field? A child will never be a good scientist if he can’t successfully read or learn the basics of reasearch and have the ability to document his findings. I fully appreciate the value of math and science and I am not discounting their imprtance in our society, but I also don’t feel that they are superior to reading and writing.