I think the joke goes that if you’re an English major (or a liberal arts major) in college, you’re going to end up serving burgers and fries at a fast food restaurant. How long this stigma has existed I do not know. What I do know is that many liberal arts major struggle to get a job after college. They have, as some employers say, “no tangible skills”. These recent graduates usually end up in an entry level job as glorified interns – getting coffee, filing paperwork, data entry, etc. They save next to no money as most of their income goes to rent, food and, for many, loans.
I can understand why many college students prefer to go into engineering, business, pharmacy, or even teaching. While those majors don’t guarantee you a job, you’re probably in a better position of finding one (and making good money) than an English major. Thus, you make more money, pay off your loans sooner and start saving.
Perhaps it’s the high cost of education these days that is making students opt for a non-liberal arts education, but maybe it’s another reason – students just don’t see the value in learning the humanities.
“There is a certain literal-mindedness in the recent shift away from the humanities. It suggests a number of things. One, the rush to make education pay off presupposes that only the most immediately applicable skills are worth acquiring (though that doesn’t explain the current popularity of political science). Two, the humanities often do a bad job of explaining why the humanities matter. And three, the humanities often do a bad job of teaching the humanities. You don’t have to choose only one of these explanations. All three apply”
I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Klinkenborg, yet I also find it sad. I feel as though English and the humanities used to be worn like a badge of honor. One was considered an educated, well-read person of society. To be able to write well was (and maybe it still is) seen as a necessity to function and succeed in society. Perhaps those students who are not English majors think they’ll just pick up writing and vocabulary as they develop their careers?
I disagree with that notion and I think Mr. Klinkenborg does as well:
“What many undergraduates do not know — and what so many of their professors have been unable to tell them — is how valuable the most fundamental gift of the humanities will turn out to be. That gift is clear thinking, clear writing and a lifelong engagement with literature.”
If we’re going to have fewer English/humanities majors, then maybe universities can begin to add more requirements in these areas. At least then students can get a small dose of English in their lives. A little knowledge won’t kill them – and it certainly won’t lead them straight to the fry-o-later.