English Majors UNITE!

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.

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5 thoughts on “English Majors UNITE!”

  1. I totally agree with you. As an English major myself, I sometimes forget that the ability to write well is a skill fewer and fewer people possess. My dad is an internal governmental auditor and he was telling me that it is a serious problem in his department, that people are unable to write lucid audit reports. They are very smart individuals with extensive education but are still unable to convey complex thoughts in a way others can understand. Great post!

  2. You make some excellent points! It seems that math and science are pushed in public grade schools because they are easier to test and score. And it is those “quantifiable results” our politicians like to wave at the media when doling out federal funding to districts. Perhaps our elected representatives downplay the importance of good communication skills because they are ashamed of their own incompetence in this area?

  3. It also bothers me how science/math are considered male (must get women interested!) and English is female (must encourage boys to read for fun!). But stereotypes exist for some reason, right? I started out college as a pre-med (I’d gotten 5s on the AP chem, bio and calculus tests–and history and English), and then I graduated in English, because in a competition for interest and compellingness, words and stories win (for me).

    I find myself, with my daughters, needing to think up science experiments (beyond the obvious cooking, gardening, etc that we do) to explore, while storytime is gorgeously effortless.

  4. I think you are right Lonna. People like things to be definitively right or wrong and English is rarely like that. Once you get past basic grammar rules it is vague. However, it is a skill and one that require constant practice and attention. It is appaling to me that I’m teaching 19 year olds the rules for capitalization and their attitude is, “who cares? I won’t ever use this.” And yet they will and they don’t believe me.

  5. So true!! I’m convinced that the reason why I did not excel at math in high school is because my teacher was the wrestling coach who thought it was important for girls to learn. There is no other reason why I would barely pass Algebra 1 and yet get an A in Algebra 2. I do think schools, society, etc make assumptions about what skills girls and boys should be good at and I think we are doing a disservice to both.

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