Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The value of an English major

College education is under fire right now. A degree doesn't guarantee you a job after graduation. Recent graduates aren't prepared for the workforce. Tuition costs are skyrocketing. Students are drowning in debt.

Society's solution to these problems is to encourage students to major in something useful, like business or engineering. Don't waste time pursuing your passion, because there's no ROI in that.

My major, English, tops nearly every "Most Useless College Majors" list. Usually I just smirk when I read these articles. I think I've done okay with my English major, and every time someone jokes about its uselessness I enjoy using myself as an example to prove them wrong.

But I feel it's time to defend the value of an English major, and humanities in general. Aside from it actually being a fun major, there are benefits that even a money-focused society can recognize. 

Monetary value

Simply stating that the humanities make us better human beings will fall to deaf ears if I can't demonstrate its usefulness to the economy, so I'll start there.

If you're like most people, you probably think that the only thing you can do with an English major is teach or write. Teachers are notoriously underpaid, and writers--unless you're one of the rare gems of the literary world like J.K. Rowling--can't usually support themselves on book sales.

That's all the evidence most people need to conclude that an English major is doomed to an educated life of poverty. However, the skills acquired from a humanities background apply to so many fields. I'll go out on a limb here and say that an English major can qualify for more jobs than an engineering major.

Let's start with that skill we're all familiar with: writing. When I was hired at ChartLogic two and a half years ago, I knew absolutely nothing about healthcare technology. I knew nothing about marketing and sales, other than my belief that salesmen are evil. But the company wasn't looking for someone with marketing skills or healthcare knowledge. What they needed was someone who could write and who had a strong grasp of English usage and grammar. The rest could be taught.

While anyone can learn to write, only some can do it well, making writing a skill that's high in demand. Virtually every business needs a writer to write content for their website/blog. Good writers are essential for marketing collateral, business proposals, and technical materials. Editing is another skill that is applicable to many different fields, not just traditional publishing. 

Many writers have gone on to hold prestigious business positions like marketing director and editor in chief.  Others cushion their income a bit more by taking on freelance jobs for magazines, newspapers, and other businesses. Even if writing or editing isn't your forte, there are still companies that want employees that can think analytically, something humanities students excel at. And while I chose not to go this route, I applaud all those who have made it their business to make sure the next generation is literate.

It's true that most English majors won't be living in that mansion on top of the hill, but the idea that a major is only as useful as its potential for a six-figure salary is just dumb. So is the idea that a person can only do a couple of things with any given major. Education is only as useful as you make it; if you want to succeed, you'll find a way.

Societal value

I am in love  the written word, a craft that isn't getting the attention it should in schools. Without it, my life would be bland. According to this guy
Literature, we are told, is vitally engaged with the living situations of men and women: it is concrete rather than abstract, displays life in all its rich variousness, and rejects barren conceptual enquiry for the feel and taste of what it is to be alive.
Studies have also shown that those who read are more empathetic. In the words of one of my favorite authors
The ability to empathise with others is an essential ingredient in forming genuine relationships, and healthy, genuine relationships are the basis of lifelong happiness. We cannot live through everything, we cannot experience everything. But we can live our lives, listen to others, and read. Reading literature, reading deeply, fills in the gaps of personal experience. Reading makes us better, kinder, smarter, happier people.
And that's it, really. The humanities humanize us. Of course, we still need doctors, engineers, business people, tech geniuses, and yes, sales guys, but if we eliminated the word nerds, musicians, and historians because they studied Paradise Lost in college rather than economics, this world would sure be a boring, unfulfilled place to live in.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The same kind of weird

I'm a bit of an oddball in Salt Lake. I resent the plethora of shopping centers surrounding my place of residence rather than bless the concrete they stand on, I consider being able to see the stars every night more important than having any kind of night life, I'll drive around the block to avoid turning left on a street with no stoplight, and my definition of "culture" excludes bar hopping, Will Ferrell movies, and fashion sense.

*I feel the need to point out that Salt Lake culture is considerably more diverse than the picture I've painted. It's much harder to classify Salt Lake-ians than Provo-ians.*

I'm glad I get to experience new ways of life and broaden my horizon a bit, and I'm not saying one way of life is superior to another, but it's always refreshing to hang out with people who have the same roots that I do.

On Saturday, despite my plans to study the afternoon away, I made an appearance at the Jackson family reunion. (Once Mom mentioned the f-word--food--I really had no choice on the matter.)

Nearly 100 people gathered at Salem Pond to reunionize. For once it was okay to assume that a majority of the people were LDS. Everyone had a good old man joke up his sleeve. A popular topic for conversation was fishin' and huntin'.

Usually I don't like going to family reunions that extend beyond my aunts and uncles. Being reintroduced to vaguely familiar relatives for half the afternoon gets old really fast.

"This is my second oldest, Angie."
"Ah, yes, I see the family resemblance."

Repeat that conversation 40 times.

But there's something nice about being with people who share a quarter of your weirdness. Even though we're spread across the country, the Jacksons are still a bunch of old-school farmer dudes at heart.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

News flash: Adulthood is boring

I used to have this vision of my life as an adult. Basically, it looked like this:

Freed from the manacles of childhood, every day would be a new adventure. I would work in a snazzy office, solve world hunger on my time off, and tour the world with my six-figure salary. I'd marry a perfect husband, have perfect children, and die when I was 100 after a life of bliss.

But then I started having a lot of days like this:

Because for the most part, adulthood is less about saving children in Africa and more about standing in line at Walmart. Sometimes the most exciting part of my day is getting out of a meeting three minutes early, or vacuuming all the hair out of my carpet.

I could force myself to get excited over every single thing to ensure maximum entertainment throughout my life, but I think I'd rather be bored occasionally than expend an exorbitant amount of energy on smelling roses at Walmart.

Life isn't very exciting sometimes. I'm okay with that.

Monday, June 10, 2013

A series of not-so-interesting adventures

June is a third of the way over, and there are no posts under June 2013 in my blog archive.

This makes me sad.

But there's nothing interesting to report, no thoughts that must be examined, no new startling insights on life.

This also makes me sad.

All I've got is a series of not-so-interesting adventures:

  • One summer evening long, long ago, I opened my bedroom window, removed the screen, and climbed outside. With my arms raised in the air, I yelled, "I AM INVINCIBLE!" This is the feeling I get every time summer begins. During those first long, warm days, I am free from doubt, insecurity, responsibility--nothing can stand in the way of my power.
  • Except, of course, adulthood. Adults can't rule summer the way kids can.
  • Last week my good flip flops broke. I have blisters from trying to break in my new ones.
  • This weekend my apartment finally unthawed from winter, which is why I only just now discovered that my AC blows unwanted and extremely unhelpful warm air.
  • Too hot to sleep.
  • Too tired to be nice to people.
  • As of the end of this week, I will officially be halfway done with grad school.
  • Usually I enjoy looking over syllabuses for the first time because I'm a nerd, but today I got no pleasure out of discovering the many things that will keep me inside this summer.
  • It worries me that it's already 96 degrees outside and my apartment managers still haven't gotten back to me about my AC problem.
  • My initials are AC.