The Pen is Mightier Still: An Argumentative Essay on Why I Choose to Remain an English Major
By Maddie Nelson-Turner
This is not an argument to persuade individuals to become English majors. Quite frankly, I have had enough of people telling others what they should do. I know I made good grades in high school; I was the one going to class day in and day out. I know I have the potential to be great; I was the one awake at unholy hours doing what needed to be done. I know I can be anything I want to be; but I cannot live out the dreams meant for someone else. "English? Come on Madison, you're too smart for that." I have heard this tune before, and I am not impressed. Yet rather than sway and romance my audience with a bombardment of facts and figures, my choice will speak for itself. This is not an argument to persuade individuals to become English majors. This argument is merely a reminder of why I became an English major, to give non-English majors a better understanding of my choice, and to encourage the English-oriented to remain true to their intended majors.
I will be the first to tell you I am not in it for the money. It has been proven on average that English majors make less than a third of science or technology based degrees. The Salary Reporter estimates that even technology based English careers such as technical writers, paralegals, and copyrighters earn between approximately $50,000 and $70,000 annually compared to an engineer who averages $100,000. Yet these numbers do not discourage me from pursuing what I love. Valerie Saturen, a freelance writer of social and political topics, summarizes the benefits of an English (liberal arts) degree: "The liberal arts are not the only source of a valuable education, but they place an unparalleled emphasis on critical thinking, integrated learning and civic engagement." In the long run, my satisfaction with my career will outweigh any salary I could ever hope for, and that cannot be measured in dollars. Why would anyone waste their time doing something they hate? Regrettably, some do not see the worth in doing what I love.
When conversing about majors, I have no shame in proclaiming myself a proud Undergraduate of English. Unfortunately, a majority of responses range from various degrees of disdain, an outright dislike for this "irrelevant" class, or a good luck that is not always genuine. Please do not belittle my major because it is "irrelevant," a "waste of your time." I want those people to think about this: what were the first skills you ever learned? Most of us would say reading, writing, and basic arithmetic. Without this early incorporation of English, we would not be able to read and comprehend given information; we would not be able to write to communicate our desires or accomplish specific tasks (applying for school or jobs); and we certainly would not be able to do math because without knowing how to write mathematical symbols, solving equations would be unnecessarily difficult. Many criticize English majors for having a less rigorous curriculum. While a valid argument, the beginning of our college experiences are spent doing the basics like everyone else. What amuses me the most is the individuals who claim English is irrelevant are the first to employ my services: essays for professors, transfer applications, and even letters of appeal. Regrettably, most do not know the full extent of our capabilities.
Contrary to popular belief, English majors are not simply made for editing essays and explaining the deeper meaning. Yes, it is our role to present information in written form, check the world for grammatical errors, and ensure maximum clarity in communication, but we can do so much more than that. English majors, do not let others say that you are just an English major. Do you know the power you possess? You can create worlds out of words, transcend from "what is" to "what if" and "what could be", and to give life and color to black-and-white print. You can offer new perspectives on age-old concepts, bridge the gap across the dividing lines (social standing, economic status, levels of education, etc.), and move thousands into action with your words. Not only do you hold these great gifts in your hands, but you are the chosen few. The English department and the Liberal Arts program as a whole are decreasing at an alarming rate.
I will never forget walking into my first departmental meeting and only counting fewer than twenty freshmen in attendance. Even professionals are noticing this startling trend: the U.S. Department of Education's Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus wrote to the Los Angeles Times that "participation in liberal arts classes is decreasing in colleges across the nation." More and more emphasis is being placed on technology and the sciences--specific areas such as biology, chemistry, biochemistry, computer engineering--and less on critical thinking areas. In light of these statistics, it is important to remember, not everyone can do what we, English majors, can do.
This is not an argument to persuade individuals to become English majors. This argument is merely a reminder of why I became an English major, to give non-English majors a better understanding of my choice, and to encourage the English-oriented to remain true to their intended majors. Not everyone is meant to be the next Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, or Barack Obama. If everyone had the same extraordinary abilities, would there be a need for them at all? I may not be able to build a computer from scratch just as you may not be able to write a paragraph to save your life. Regardless of what we do, there is but one reason behind it: the love of doing. "Why are you an English major?" Because I love it. It is not rocket science.
- Dreifus and Hacker: http://www.usnewsuniversitydirectory.com/articles/professionals-note-the-decline-of-liberal-arts-maj_11716.aspx
- Saturen: http://inthesetimes.com/article/5312/losing_liberal_arts/
- The Salary Reporter: http://blogs.payscale.com/salary_report_kris_cowan/2009/09/jobs-for-english-majors.html