Talbot: English degree offers students valuable skillset

Many college students consider themselves to be on the fast track to success. They know exactly which companies they will work for once they graduate and what their starting salaries will be. They would never waste their time taking fluffy classes in the liberal arts, focusing instead on science and other practical studies. But I have news for all you business and pre-med students: I am thoroughly convinced that there is no such thing as a useless major.

Maybe I’m biased, considering I’m an English major. Literature is, after all, among those areas of study that are consistently accused of being a waste of students’ time and parents’ money, right up there with theater and philosophy. There’s always that age-old question: “What are you going to do with your degree?” And I’ll give you this much, skeptics and pre-professionals: I don’t know. Not yet.

I am only a second semester freshman, after all. It’s not as though I have my career path all mapped out. And even if I were able to do exactly what I wanted – something in publishing or maybe screenwriting, culminating in a relaxed and satisfying life as a fulltime novelist – I wouldn’t expect any major to bring that kind of highly specific success.

I don’t know about community colleges or big universities, but I know that Geneseo is a liberal arts college and the liberal arts are all about exploration and discovery. Learning to think critically and make informed decisions. Figuring out what one does and does not like and where one can and cannot find success. Undergraduate school – at least, this undergraduate school – serves as a buffer between the rigid structure of high school and that of that terrifying place college kids like to call the “real world.”

I think a lot of students confuse being away at college with living an adult life. Geneseo isn’t the real world and it certainly isn’t a community of mature adults. It’s a place where people learn to gain independence, make decisions for themselves and eventually specialize in the area or areas of their expertise. But the truth is that most students of all majors and academic strengths are probably several internships and a graduate degree away from a viable career.

As far as an English degree goes, I have yet to be convinced that it’s impractical. I took associate professor of English Rob Doggett’s section of ENGL 170: The Practice of Criticism last semester, and it taught me a lot about reading – not just understanding each individual word or sentence, but really reading – and finding multiple meanings in everything from Irish literature to car commercials.

Once you can interpret the meaning of something, you can criticize it. Once you’ve criticized it, you can decide whether or not to apply anything it may have taught you to your own life. They don’t teach that in physics lab. I don’t mean to knock physics, of course, I just mean to emphasize that though the skill set of an English major is different, it is just as important.

Part of Doggett’s final exam required students to read an article from a past issue of The Lamron that tried and failed to make a mockery of my major. Ironically, the article was riddled with logical fallacies. If a biochemistry major doesn’t know how to argue a point in writing, then maybe they could benefit from a little literature in their own life.