The Springfield News-Sun’s editor recently reported–briefly–on the drastically dwindling numbers of English majors in the country’s universities. The editor expressed surprise: How could that be?
It’s not rocket science, folks. When I graduated with a bright, shiny degree in English almost 30 years ago, the assumption by family, friends, fellow students in other majors, and strangers was that my degree was useless for anything but a career as an English teacher. Follow that with decades of cultural and institutional focus on science, math, and technology, and English, philosophy, history, and the fine arts have become devalued as impractical and worthless. Such emphases ignore that none of those other “more valuable” fields would even be possible without the facile use of language to understand and express them.
Why would any bright, young person who could so anything else pursue a career in an impractical and worthless field, unless he or she weren’t capable of performing worthwhile and valuable work? Thus and to no surprise, such persons found themselves relegated to “unimportant” and poorly paid jobs.
If I’d had the hard wiring to lead me into another career, I would have pursued that. But, no, my passion encompassed writing and literature and history and philosopy. The only thing that would have disappointed my family more would have been a pursuit of fine arts.
Writing is a craft. Like cooking, woodworking, welding, or other trade, competence demands mastery of a complex skill set. A culture that devalues the trades will inevitably find itself lacking people who can build and repair things. A culture that devalues English majors will inevitably suffer from poorly written content.
On that note, the next time you pick up a magazine, read a news article, refer to a business report, peruse the the bounty of your local library’s or bookstore’s bookshelves, or watch a TV show or movie, remember that someone had to write that content and do so well enough to convey the information or story in such a manner that the majority of readers could understand it.