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My Name Is Joe Bob, and I’m an English Major

Summary:
JUPITER, Fla.—I feel like I need to confess my addiction, like a newbie in a 12-step program. My name is Joe Bob, and I’m an English major. I’m not asking for your pity. I’ve been trying to overcome this addiction on my own for several decades now, and so I’m turning it over to a higher power. That higher power would be the Modern Language Association, which owns something called the Postsecondary Education Data System, and they are reporting that English is now pretty much the most unpopular major in college, so unpopular that liberal arts colleges are closing their doors or, in desperate efforts to stay open, changing to a “career-oriented” curriculum. From what I understand, “career-oriented” rules out English. But it gets worse.

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JUPITER, Fla.—I feel like I need to confess my addiction, like a newbie in a 12-step program.

My name is Joe Bob, and I’m an English major.

I’m not asking for your pity. I’ve been trying to overcome this addiction on my own for several decades now, and so I’m turning it over to a higher power.

That higher power would be the Modern Language Association, which owns something called the Postsecondary Education Data System, and they are reporting that English is now pretty much the most unpopular major in college, so unpopular that liberal arts colleges are closing their doors or, in desperate efforts to stay open, changing to a “career-oriented” curriculum. From what I understand, “career-oriented” rules out English.

But it gets worse. There are several different kinds of English degrees, depending on what course concentrations you have, and it turns out that mine is the lowest of the low: English literature.

Chaucer wept.

Of course, when I heard the news that the number of declared English majors declines every year at a faster and faster rate, I started to come up with all the arguments for an English literature degree that would have been made by my high school guidance counselor.

(1) It makes you a better writer.
(2) It makes you a better speaker.
(3) It gives you a background that will be valuable in any other field.
(4) It makes you more appreciative of our cultural heritage and therefore better able to socialize.
(5) It builds your vocabulary.
(6) It gives you insights into history.

The problem with all of these reasons for majoring in English literature is (a) they’re lame, (b) I don’t really believe any of them, and (c) nobody majors in English literature for any of those reasons.

This is like talking to someone who likes coffee-flavored ice cream. If you ask them why they eat coffee-flavored ice cream, they could say, “I want more dairy in my diet,” “It improves my sleep,” “It has a probiotic effect on my digestion,” but the real reason is “I just like the taste. It doesn’t really do anything healthy for me.”

And eventually, if you study the data, which is what the Modern Language Association does, you have to reach the conclusion that studying English is good for…nothing.

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