The Importance of the English Major

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.

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.

Maybe it takes some living to find out this truth. Whenever I teach older students, whether they’re undergraduates, graduate students or junior faculty, I find a vivid, pressing sense of how much they need the skill they didn’t acquire earlier in life. They don’t call that skill the humanities. They don’t call it literature. They call it writing — the ability to distribute their thinking in the kinds of sentences that have a merit, even a literary merit, of their own.

Writing well used to be a fundamental principle of the humanities, as essential as the knowledge of mathematics and statistics in the sciences. But writing well isn’t merely a utilitarian skill. It is about developing a rational grace and energy in your conversation with the world around you.


Clear concise thought and the ability to express it.

Folksonomies: communication cognition expression humanities

/art and entertainment/books and literature (0.599169)
/science/social science (0.536694)
/hobbies and interests/reading (0.285392)

humanities (0.938159 (positive:0.043118)), English Major Clear (0.752430 (positive:0.710260)), bad job (0.705404 (negative:-0.530114)), immediately applicable skills (0.685652 (positive:0.480288)), recent shift (0.400643 (negative:-0.247556)), utilitarian skill (0.398966 (positive:0.762813)), certain literal-mindedness (0.391950 (negative:-0.247556)), current popularity (0.367222 (neutral:0.000000)), education pay (0.362880 (positive:0.480288)), lifelong engagement (0.362716 (positive:0.663756)), political science (0.360892 (neutral:0.000000)), clear writing (0.350940 (positive:0.663756)), literary merit (0.339958 (neutral:0.000000)), fundamental gift (0.333241 (positive:0.687570)), junior faculty (0.329954 (neutral:0.000000)), rational grace (0.329223 (positive:0.908035)), fundamental principle (0.323856 (positive:0.558579)), graduate students (0.316933 (neutral:0.000000)), older students (0.316349 (neutral:0.000000))

junior faculty:JobTitle (0.722755 (neutral:0.000000))

Literature (0.944526): dbpedia | freebase
Social sciences (0.909577): dbpedia | opencyc
Humanities (0.879584): dbpedia | freebase
Bachelor's degree (0.817062): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Graduate school (0.772901): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Linguistics (0.764217): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Philosophy (0.734813): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Critical thinking (0.706989): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc | yago

 The Decline and Fall of the English Major
Electronic/World Wide Web>Internet Article:  Klinkenborg, Verlyn (6/23/2013), The Decline and Fall of the English Major, New York Times, Retrieved on 2013-06-24
  • Source Material []
  • Folksonomies: opinion humanities