A new semester begins with new-ish classes to teach, and I find myself wondering (again) how to get non-English majors interested in reading literature. This task feels daunting in our current cultural and political moment, where state and federal government continue to defund higher education and public school educators are on strike just to make a living wage. The humanities especially continue to draw the short stick, perhaps because of sticky myths: English majors are out-of-touch dreamers; English majors cannot find jobs; English majors do not make money; English majors only teach, etc.
When in reality, large tech companies and successful business CEOs want more Humanities majors because of all the soft skills they acquire. One big challenge for advisors, students, and employers is that English does not compute into a one to one equivalent. For example, when you major in Business with a concentration in Accounting, you will most likely be an accountant. Yet, this equivalent is harder to determine when majoring in a humanistic discipline like English, History, or Philosophy. Instead, Humanities majors have uncountable possibilities. The problem arises in translating which skills from humanistic inquiry apply to job ads. While more time consuming to delineate, there are a host of jobs that require humans to relate to other humans.
Reading literature, and the college experience more generally, is not solely about gainful employment (or so I claim). Liberal Arts courses also make us better humans. I ask again, why read literature? Here is what I posted to my course introduction on Chadron State College’s online teaching platform CSC_Online:
You might be asking yourself, why do I have to take a literature class when I want to be a nurse, accountant, basketball star, or fill in the blank with your chosen career path? Many popular magazine articles and scholarly studies alike have shown that the study of literature teaches you what white-collar professionals call soft skills. Soft skills are those higher-order thinking skills like critical thinking, inquiry, and argumentation. While studying literature, you might find yourself surprised to know that you can apply many of the things we learn in this class to your profession. In fact, many tech companies and large corporations like to hire English majors and other Liberal Arts majors because we are good at communicating clearly and effectively, we understand how to find out what people want, we have more empathy, we can research well and articulate our findings to different audiences, we work well in groups and alone, and we are great at presenting complex ideas.
In addition to these skills, I’ve linked two articles below that discuss how reading literature makes us better humans, makes us smarter, and makes us kinder people in a confusing world.
Let me know what you think. I am grateful to suggestions and questions.