Demystifying the English discipline

by Chloe Nimpoeno

The English discipline has been around since the eighteenth century, studied at universities and colleges around the world. In the last decade, there has been a noticeable decline in the number of students who choose to pursue English studies in higher education. Articles such as the one published in the New Yorker in March of 2023 titled “The End of the English Major” conclude that the English discipline is dying. The general consensus is that the declining popularity of the English discipline is caused by the belief that studying English is not worth it and that it is more of a hobby than a career. Some students do not even understand what studying English entails or have the stereotypical idea that it is an easy path through college.

As someone who once believed in these same popular preconceived notions that promote English as a non-serious discipline that does not prepare individuals for a career in the future, I can confidently testify that some of these myths are just myths.

1) All English students do is read and write.

While a majority of the work is reading and writing, the English discipline goes beyond simply reading novels and writing essays. English students study theory, philosophy, history, culture and other subjects related to the traditional English curriculum. Additionally, many English courses combine writing with other forms of creative expression, ensuring well-rounded assignments that play to the best of every student’s abilities.

Despite the name of the discipline, English goes beyond just the Western canon. With the incorporation of subjects such as Asian American literature, early queer literature and postcolonial theory and literature, the discipline is expanding now more than ever. There is something for everyone, and traditional subjects such as Old English literature and Shakespeare are being taught through lenses that are relevant to the time.

2) English is not as difficult and not as worth it compared to STEM.

People love to compare English and the humanities to STEM disciplines in terms of rigor and practicality. The comparison of the two is, at its core, faulty; all fields and subjects offer different skills and exercise an individual’s mind in their own unique ways. To compare them would suggest a universal standard unit of measurement, which does not exist and cannot apply to distinct academic disciplines. On the other hand, they are incomparable because they are not as distinct and different as one may believe. I am not going out on a limb by claiming that English (as well as the humanities, in general) and STEM both help students develop critical thinking skills, apply logic and collect and use evidence. The only way the two disciplines differ when teaching the same valuable skills is in their methods of teaching and the specific content they are teaching.

English students may not wrangle with numbers, but words are just as important and enriching to work with. Some of the most difficult classes I have ever taken in higher education have been English classes that continuously push for students to think beyond the extent of their current ideas. The possibilities of language are endless, and the inability to land on a perfect answer is one of the most beautiful yet challenging things of the English discipline. English gives students absolute freedom of thought, interpretation and expression, as well as challenges them to reflect on its significance to oneself and society. English is just like every other academic discipline; you get as much out of it as you put in, and that is what makes it worth it.

3) English majors have limited career options.

To this day, when I tell people that I am an English major, the default follow-up question is “Oh, so you want to be a teacher?” There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to become a teacher (in fact, my career goal is to become a professor), but it goes to show how many people still believe that teaching is the only career option for those in the English major. There are so many career options for those who study English because it is such a broad discipline. Yes, you may pursue education, at any level. Or, if education is not your passion, you could become a professional or technical writer, who often work with technology companies to create manuals and guides for their products and services. As English sharpens both written and verbal skills, people who study English may venture into the entertainment industry as singers (such as John Legend, who studied literature in college), screenwriters or PR officers.

Many aspiring lawyers also tend to take English in their undergraduate to practice and develop their reading, research and rhetorical skills that will help them in law school and beyond. Not only is there something for everyone within the English discipline itself, but there is something for everyone in the careers that an English discipline can prepare one for.

The English discipline has garnered a fair amount of stereotypes that do not serve justice to the significance and scope of the field. English may not interest everyone, but hopefully the public can begin to understand the reasons why one may choose to pursue the discipline.

Featured Image Photographed by Julia Zhou/BruinLife

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