A Thought on Value

I’m beginning to recognize a recurring pattern as I dive into the abstract, at times even murky, English major waters. All around me I hear the unspoken conversations between most students, educators, and all those in between, regarding a major’s value.

“So you’re an English major…” is what most people coolly reply to my admissions. Each time this occurs, I half expect them to finish their never-concluded statements with something similar to, “And where’s the value in that?” Now, I don’t believe that this attitude is often negative, so much as it is genuinely curious. Those outside of an English department can, understandably, struggle with the concept of English being a useful, valuable, course of study. In his Interdisciplinarity, Joe Moran discusses John Crowe Ransom’s argument that “the discipline of English needs to develop a clear professional footing…” (38). Majors such as Business, Economics, Biology, Chemistry, and the like, are known to have relatively clear post college goals. You can get a businessman, an economist, a biologist, and chemist right off the bat from those majors. Say you’re an English major, and the first (often only) thing that pops into a person’s mind is “teacher”. If that career is not what you’re aiming for, like myself, you’re faced with a sea of puzzled expressions; there is no “Englishman” profession waiting at our finish line. Also, why are we still struggling with the idea of valuing the English major so long after the discipline’s establishment?

What, exactly, can English majors contribute to society and culture? In at least my own mind, there are plenty of answers to that question. There is a strong relationship between literature and culture, for instance. As I have mentioned before, literature, whether consciously or subconsciously, catches the historical context all around it and congeals it as time flies past. The same method exists with culture. Literature is a reflection of the culture in which it was born; it is an archive. It is also clearly undervalued in today’s modern culture, when reading is trumped by “television, cinema, popular music, and the Internet” more often than we are willing to admit (Moran, 62-63). “Books are media texts as well…” (Moran 59). Michel de Certeau discusses the importance of the novel in our present culture, and importance that should not be as undervalued as it is. The book is more valuable still, because the meanings that can be taken from it come in many forms, some forms even unintended by the author, that can enrich the reader in unpredictable ways (Moran 63).

Much more evidence of value can be discussed when it comes to English and its literature. It is my hope that conversations such as this will not need to be had in the future, as the value of this discipline proves to be flexible, foundational, and all-encompassing.

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