Is majoring in English worth it? This question was posed in an article published in the Wall Street Journal on Sept. 9. Its author, William McGurn, was formerly George W. Bush’s speechwriter, so you’d think he’d understand the importance of a degree that focuses on proper writing and communication skills. Apparently not.
McGurn cites that his primary issue with the modern-day English degree lies in the fact that universities now provide “watered down curriculums,” with classes that focus more on “Harry Potter” and gender theory than Chaucer and great literature. He argues the courses that are offered now are less vigorous than courses provided to generations before us, and “...what’s on offer today isn’t your father’s English degree.” Sure, my dad did not have the privilege of reading Toni Morrison’s “Beloved,” Charles Dickens’ “Bleak House” and “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” in the same semester. I guess McGurn is right: My English degree is better than my dad’s.
If you consider classic pieces of British Literature or the works of Langston Hughes or Shakespeare to be frivolous, then one may imagine I’m not getting much out of my degree. But the remarkable aspect of education in literature is that it has the ability to evolve over time.
Reading Shakespeare will always be worthwhile. The Bard’s one-liners and soliloquies are timeless, and I am a better writer and scholar for having analyzed works such as “The Taming of the Shrew” and “The Merchant of Venice.” But who says I can’t read “Harry Potter” alongside Chaucer? Maybe I want to study gender theory in the context of great literature such as Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre.” (Spoiler alert: I have.) The Wizarding World of Harry Potter didn’t even exist when my parents were going to school, so why is the undergraduate student in 2019 being berated for reading literature that are classics for our generation? It’s baffling to me.
One could even argue that an English degree received in 2019 is even more well-rounded, seeing as we’re studying ancient literature alongside modern works — both respectively influencing the contemporary culture of our society.
Aside from the curriculum, McGurn claimed that a degree in English is ranked No. 132 out of 162 college majors when regarding the median income and the current unemployment rate. The data analyst from the cited study claimed that choosing a major “is one of the most important financial decisions many people make, and the repercussions can be long-lasting.” While on the surface this may be true, choosing English as a major doesn’t define your fate. A STEM major may not provide you with the same transferable skills, and English is an extraordinarily versatile degree. If you are interested in creative writing, film, screenwriting or classic literature, odds are you will study English.
If you want anything ranging from comedy to business, there’s no better way to learn to communicate effectively than through studying English. Whether you study ancient prose or modern-day novels, you will be expanding your mind and acquiring the skills necessary for success in any field. So, in summation, yes. Majoring in English is worth it.
Hannah Whitaker is a UF English junior.