Stephen E. Arnold: English Majors Are Hot!

04 Education
Stephen E. Arnold
Stephen E. Arnold

English Major? You Are Hot and May Not Know It

I get quite a few laughs when I point out that my degree is in medieval Latin poetry. Hey, what can I say? The computer science departments at my undergraduate university did not want anyone using the precious mainframe to index Latin anything. The College of Liberal Arts & Sciences and Dr. William Gillis had a different view. So I know zero about poetry but I could in the early 1960s generate concordances and indexes. The rest, of course, is history. Halliburton Nuclear, Booz, Allen & Hamilton (now Snowdonized), and a couple of big companies into electronic information.

Imagine my thrill when I read the most amazingly wild and crazy article in the San Francisco Chronicle (July 14, 2013) on page E8 with the reassuring, almost baby-blanket comfortable title, “English Majors, Once Disdained, Back in Demand.” You may be able to find a version of this write up at http://www.pressdisplay.com/pressdisplay/viewer.aspx. No promises, however. I am following in the footsteps of universities which are craw fishing away from the notion that someone with a degree in law or art history will be able to find a job after graduating.

In my opinion, the main point of the essay is that English majors can look beyond standing in line for SNAP cards and unemployment benefits. English majors have the ability to “construct stories.” The passage which made me a true believer about the value of an English major was:

When so0meone spends four years reading, writing about and talking about complicated, nuanced texts, a kind of interpretive stacking occurs that enables a student (or an employee) to navigate the noise surrounding a document and pay attention both to what it’s saying and (perhaps more important) to what it’s doing.

If you are an English major, you already know this. I frequently reflect on the Elizabethiad, an epic written in Latin hexameters by William Alabaster, to curry favor with Queen Elizabeth. The fellow needed some Latin oomph since he was flitting back and forth to Spain and putting himself in a position where his “true faith” was easily questioned.

The closing paragraph of the write up is interesting as well. The author, a university professor, noted:

Of course, English isn’t for everyone, and it won’t guarantee you a job upon graduation, like a major in accounting might. But with people switching jobs every few years now, I can think of no degree more versatile or more interesting. I also believe that studying English makes you a smarter reader of the world. And as the world becomes more saturated with information, literacy (in all its forms) is the most employable skill around.

Great point. However, with rising illiteracy in the US, and the emergence of smart software which removes the need to type words to locate videos, I think that the meaning of “English major” may have to be revised. Don’t write it in cursive, however.

Stephen E Arnold, July 24, 2013

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