More on the English major

The New York Times commentator Verlyn Klinkenborg recently wrote about the “decline of the English major” in an opinion piece titled “Why the Humanities Still Matter.” I am offering a link to the letters to the editor concerning that essay [which includes a link to the opinion piece as well]:

Another article, this time in the Chronicle of Higher Education, makes the point that employers often want qualities in their employees that the English major supplies…but that employers may not realize that! (One commenter suggests students major in business or biology or whatever and minor in English).

Those of you new to my blog may wish to look at the archives here on this topic, which include:

“Reasonable, Calming”


“Defending the Poetry major”

“Learning the literary analysis”

“Philosophy & English are friends”

I’m a philosophy and literature major who is also a poet; and I’m not starving to death, and I like my job. Can the cynics please stand down? Learning matters. True education makes us into better thinkers. Society benefits.

End of story. Now, go read a book!

6 comments on “More on the English major

  1. SingingBones says:

    I agree wholeheartedly, learning MATTERS…. and I might add, there are many, many ways to learn in this world. And YES, viva la poetry forever!!


  2. KM Huber says:

    True education is precisely the point, and always, this blog is illustrative of that. As a liberal arts major–history and literature–I never lacked for a job, and those two fields served me time and again and still do. Thanks, Ann!


  3. KM Huber says:

    Just a bit of a clarification on my comment. I pursued various fields with my two degrees, not just education/teaching, and they were always considered an asset. That said, it was a much different job market and world, for that matter, so the comment was rather thoughtless. Clearly, I have rather strong feelings regarding the humanities. Thanks, Ann.


    • I hear you, Karen! I graduated during a hard economy and did jobs I never imagined my college degree was preparing me to do. “Various fields,” as you put it…I’m glad there are people who feel passionate about the humanities no matter what they do for employment.


  4. If I could do one thing over in my life, it would be to have stayed at Northwestern where I likely would have ended up as an English major instead of leaving after my freshman year. I connected with my American Literature professor there, who would have been a terrific mentor. Instead, in part due to family issues, I came back to Boston where I was a communications major. Gone from my curriculum were the important books and any real chance for intellectual discussion and development of critical thinking skills. I think that being an English major allows one to approach life and work with a much broader palette.


    • A former student of mine who majored in Business stopped in the other day and lamented that the business major at our college required so few courses in the humanities and in writing. He said everything he’s doing at his job (he did land a fairly good first job) he could have managed without any of the business classes he took, but that he sees now how his poor writing skills are likely to hold him back from advancing into a more interesting level of his career.

      Another friend responded to this post by telling me her writing, research, and critical-thinking skills (and her literature background) have been crucial to her job in the movie business.

      Of course, Judith, we can always try to make time to read the “great books” later in life. But having the guidance of a few excellent professors in the humanities isn’t easily duplicated, as you point out.


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