The Importance of English

By Steven Gillard

A quick Google search can take you to pages of the “best college majors,” a field largely dominated by the sciences nowadays. At the opposite end of the spectrum, listed under “worst majors,” you will usually find fields such as history, the arts, and English language and literature.

Matt Modica/Collegian
Matt Modica/Collegian

I’m an English major, and this type of prejudice against my major is all too common. The question is always the same: “What will you do if you don’t end up teaching?” Nursing students say that they will help people.

Engineering majors say that they are going to construct a better world. And the scientists are going to rescue us all by fighting against pollution, world hunger and cancer.

I would argue that the English major— teaching the mastery of our language— is equally as important as any of the hard sciences; though perhaps subtler than its science counterparts, the study of English has an equally significant role in our daily lives.

Our favorite music, movies and TV shows are all connected with words, for example. History books and fine literature all tangibly began with a single word on a piece of paper. Dig further into American history books and you will find that our own independence was first asserted in the Declaration of Independence, an iconic document written over 200 years ago that changed American history as well as affected the course of the world’s history.

The people who change the world do so with a mighty weapon: words. How did President Obama win the presidency for two consecutive terms? How did Martin Luther King Jr. lead one of the most successful civil rights movements of all time? Through rhetoric. By standing up on the stage with a microphone and inspiring the American public with carefully crafted words and masterful delivery.

The fields of science and mathematics are no doubt important, and it is impossible to say that one subject is more important than another. But every significant social event in history—every protest, every war, every activist movement—was started by an individual who had an idea and expressed this idea through speech.

All of the technology in the world is useless if we lose the ability to connect effectively on a personal level. Forbes may list English as one of the worst majors, and many people say that there is not much you can do with an English degree. But when I look at the world and see how much of our lives are touched by words, I wonder: What can’t I do with an English degree? Every social interaction in life boils down to rhetoric, the ability to convince, negotiate, sympathize and inspire. To me, the knowledge of language is the most powerful weapon in the world.

So next time you talk to somebody majoring in English, stop and think. Maybe they aren’t crazy. Maybe they aren’t bent on becoming the next J.K. Rowling. Maybe they just view the world a little differently.

Steven Gillard is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]