Help build a better future by majoring in English

Illustration for article titled Help build a better future by majoring in English

We're living in an era when jobs in finance, science and technology are valued far more than they should be, if we want to build a better world. The future needs English majors.


Image via Luzinterruptus

Writing in the New York Times over the weekend, book editor Gerald Howard says that we still need people to study culture and the humanities if we hope for our wealth and scientific achievements to have any meaning.

Writes Howard:

Almost any cultural transaction involving a sum of money represents, as Samuel Johnson famously said of second marriages, the triumph of hope over experience. We live in a time when college enrollment in the humanities is declining precipitously, in good part because majoring in such subjects seems unlikely to result in gainful employment in a strapped economy and thus would be a waste of hard-earned (or usuriously borrowed) tuition dollars.

Somehow our culture has persuaded itself that the naked quest for financial gain, often through the devising and trading, on monstrous amounts of (very low interest) borrowed money, of what Warren Buffett has called instruments of mass destruction, is a more urgent and honorable calling than the passionate pursuit of truth and beauty.

I've tried to suggest that at least a portion of that pursuit can have gratifying economic results. (Plus it will not plunge us into an endless recession!) But that's not really the point. The point is truth and beauty, without which our lives will lack grace and meaning and our civilization will be spiritually hollowed out and the historical bottom line will be that future epochs will remember us as a coarse and philistine people who squandered our bottomlessly rich cultural inheritance for short-term and meaningless financial advantage.

And that is why you should major in English.

Read the rest of the essay at the New York Times.

(Full disclosure: Gerald Howard is my editor at Doubleday.)



I think we need more people who do *both* — which is, of course, the point of the unusually broad US course requirements for a bachelors', but has perhaps been slightly diluted by not-for-majors courses.

One has to get the ends and the means right.