Almost every arts major on the University of Saskatchewan campus will invariably have to deal with the following line: “So, what use is your degree? I mean, what can you do with it?”
While I can’t speak for other arts students, as an English major, my answers are essentially “Read and critique literature,” and “Teach English.” Most of the time, this is met with either patronization or disdain. I once had somebody simply shake their head and cluck their tongue.Â
It’s infuriating. These people operate on the assumption that our degrees are of no value. It’s actually quite offensive. I was recently told by a engineering student that when he hears what our degrees can do for us and he contrasts it with what his degree will do for him, he can’t help but feel smug around English majors because he made a better choice than they did. I had no immediate response to this.Â
Â I have given the matter some serious thought and I have prepared a list of what an English degree actually gives a person.
Fosters study of a broad spectrum of knowledge
The thing is, most of an English degree does equal reading and studying literature. But what is literature written about? Pretty much any subject you can name: morals, law, politics, sociology, history, religion and mythology, to name a few.
Often, there’s a synergy between these subjects in any given piece of literature. Take, for instance, Paradise Lost, by John Milton. This book is required reading for practically anyone getting an English degree and it pertains to religion, politics, morals and history quite clearly.
Not only do we read the book but we study the facts surrounding the book so we can understand it. As such, we end up gathering quite a bit of knowledge of the world at the time the book was written. This is only the most obvious example of literature — I’ve learned more about the world from “reading books” than most engineers ever could.Â
Creates a deeper understanding of human behaviour
A common topic in classical literature is why people do the things they do. After years of study, you begin to get a good feel of what motives led to a certain action, and what other possible reasons there might be for these actions.
What does this mean in practical terms?
Basically, you can read people. You see, after a certain amount of time on earth, you realize that most people conform to certain patterns of behaviour. English majors are given detailed knowledge on how to trace the patterns of that behaviour and figure out why everyone around them does what they do.
Enhances public speaking abilities
This one’s a gimme. We read lots of big words and fancy speeches and can’t help but walk away with some pretty impressive dialect as a result. Public speaking is an important skill in life, particularly if you intend to be a leader. Few people who rose to excellence were bad at speeches.Â
Poetry is bitchin’
Â If you think it’s not, you’re reading the wrong poetry. That stuff on your MySpace account doesn’t count. Read some Keats, Coleridge and Plath, and then tell me poetry is stupid. It’s not possible.
And here’s a tip for the guys: You know those myths that women like poetry? Yeah, they’re not myths. I have yet to meet a girl who absolutely didn’t want a guy reciting poetry to her. The same tip goes to girls going after guys — provided the fellow you’re after is an English major.Â
Â So, science students, you can have your “practical education” and your “high rates of employment.” English majors know who’s really on top. And real jobs with a living wage are for suckers, anyway.