English Majors Need Respect, Too

When Did Science Become the Only Subject Worth Talking About?


Published: November 15, 2007

Some time ago, I ran into my old elementary school principal. She was excited to see me, and began to ask me all kinds of questions — what was I doing with myself, how were my mother and father, was I done with college yet. Before I could answer any of these questions, she made my rising spirit plummet to my feet and attempt to disappear into the cracks in the sidewalk we were standing on; she asked me excitedly if I was going to be a scientist or a doctor. She almost winced when I told her I was an English major. I know she didn’t mean to offend me, and yet this incident made me think about how often I’ve heard people knock down English majors. Why is a science-related program of study or career track the first thing parents and teachers want to talk about? Is being a doctor the only worthwhile thing to do?

Why can’t we, English majors, be looked upon with as much respect as is awarded to the science students? I realize how difficult being a natural science major is. They have an insane amount of memorization to do, dense articles to trudge through, and time consuming lab experiments to conduct. It’s all very honorable. I greatly admire and am grateful to the science students. Thank God they’ve dedicated themselves to learning all the biology, chemistry and physics to sustain our scientific knowledge for the generation to come because it all bores the rest of us to no end.

But, can’t we, non-science students, be given a little credit, too? After all, who is going to edit the science text books or scholarly articles? More importantly, who is going to create the literature that will calm our souls when science can’t explain the randomness of illness or death?

If there were no English majors (or visual arts, communications, history, art history majors, etc.), who would worry about the preservation of the human spirit? Isn’t this as important as safeguarding the human body? And don’t the dimensions of the human spirit evolve along with societal changes the same way that technology and medicine are continually changing? What does the changing spirit have to do with literature? Perhaps I’m being too abstract, but I really do believe that literature is the expression of the soul or spirit; literature (art, the media and interpretation of historical events) is essential to understanding how individuals see themselves in a social/cultural context. Isn’t any attempt to understand such a huge concept worthy of the same respect allotted by our peers and elders to the study of how to preserve the health of our physical bodies?

Here are the five most disrespectful things I’ve heard said to an English Major:

• Oh… that’s… nice—but what do you plan to do with that?

• But there’s no money in it!

• What exactly are you learning though? I mean, you know how to read and write, what more could there be?

• Have you ever read _________? (Insert any author from around the world, no matter how obscure, from any time period.) … No? What kind of an English major are you?

• Aren’t you interested in science at all?

Please refrain from using these phrases when talking to an English major. We are as interested in human well-being and advancement as the science majors are. Furthermore, it’s extremely annoying to have to constantly defend a decision that isn’t even an easy one to follow through with. Have you ever tried to write three 10 page papers in 10 days?