Whence, and where, and why the English major? The subject is in every mouth—or, at least, is getting kicked around agitatedly in columns and reviews and Op-Ed pieces.
via Why Teach and Study English? : The New Yorker.
Reading Adam Gopnik’s “Why Teach English?” I was reminded of what my father told me when he learned I was planning to be an English major. He said: “What are you going to do? Open an English store?” Gopnik’s article raises a troubling issue, especially when you factor in that some colleges are considering having English majors pay more for their education than students pursuing a “useful” major, like bio-engineering or accounting.
Gopnik counters that English departments “democratize the practice of reading.” I’m not sure this is the best argument to make considering that anyone with a library card has access to free books and there are book groups (including virtual ones) galore. The problem is this: College is no longer a place solely for learning. It’s become the pathway to a (hopefully lucrative) career or at least something that pays the rent on one’s overpriced apartment in Bushwick. Our economy is stagnant, our unemployment rate is high and because of budgetary concerns, teachers continue to be laid off. Factor in the cost of most private colleges and majoring in English, at first glance, looks like a fast track to nowhere.
I found it interesting that Gopnik did not mention the standard reason many people recommend studying English – it gives you a great background in critical thinking if you want to go on and pursue a career in something else. Is that enough?
He states that the humanities and by extension the literature courses most English majors love, “help us enjoy life more and endure it better.” I agree wholeheartedly, but it’s a very tough sell.
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