Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Education and the English Major

It is hard not to get sick of school, regardless of what you're studying.

I am coming to this realization that the bundles of facts and dates and theories that I am daily memorizing and regurgitating will have little to no direct impact on my future as a human being. When you realize that everything you've written for school for the past 8 months has been nothing but a strained performance of hoop-jumping, you start to question your education.

I have no problem with the reading material. The English Major is, really, a great major. I get to read classic, canonized works. I get to read Officially Good Books while everyone else is staring into chemistry textbooks and such. And I read a lot of them. I think that the main philosophy behind the English Major is to pump as much literary text into the student as possible before they graduate. I am not kidding.

My issue is that I feel like the major is imbalanced. We spend all this time reading Great Works, but spend no time at all applying what we learn. We use literature as a way of measuring history and humanity, of taking an anthropologic view at the world. There is certainly value to that. But honestly, I don't care.

I am an English major not just because I like to read, but because I like to write - I like to express myself. I enjoy reading James Joyce not because of his commentary on Ireland and Imperialism, or for his effect on the literary world - but because I want to try to write epiphanies like he does, or try my hand at stream-of-consciousness, or take the pulse of a culture like he does. Is not that infinitely more valuable and satisfying than simply being able to say "James Joyce introduced the methods of the epiphany and stream-of-consciousness in year X with works Y and Z, influencing later artists A and B?" If all these Great Literary Works are worth studying to such depth, shouldn't it be worth it to try doing it ourselves? Does the English major really matter if nobody tries to attempt anything like everything that's studied?

Instead, I feel like this major is designed to accrue all kinds of obscure knowledge that is meant merely to be passed on to somebody else. English majors are sought in real life not because they can rattle off the effects of different authors and movements, but because they can write well. If the only things we're writing are literary analises, which frankly have no effect on a world chock-full of literary analysis, what are we doing?

I feel like we're all getting duped. The reason people become English majors, more often than not, is because they like to read. The English Major takes these people who love reading and forces them to read things from an anthropological perspective instead of just for the value of the pieces or the value of expression. It creates and perpetuates "high culture," redefining art as something that requires a certain degree of memorization and regurgitation to fully appreciate, instead of letting art just be the simple relationship between expression and enjoyment.

There is definitely value in studying things this way - much can be learned about cultures and people. But what are we learning about art, or expression, if the only reason we read it is to learn about other things? And are we really learning about art and expression if we spend all our time studying how everyone else expresses themselves and never doing it ourselves?

There are creative writing courses in the english major, but they're seen mostly as an optional off-shoot to the core curriculum. Most writing that's done in the major is analyzing literature. Is that not missing the mark? Is there not a more direct way to become better writers than simply writing about other people's writing?

I suppose that I am asking for a more subjective approach that requires more creativity and expression...but isn't that what it's all about?

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