An open letter to those who would belittle studies within the liberal arts

People… people… look, we need to discuss something. It’s, well, comparatively speaking, it’s an incredibly unimportant issue; however, it’s an issue that has been weighing on my mind recently. This issue relates to liberal arts degrees. Specifically, everybody just needs to shut the hell up. No, really shut the hell up. Because, people of the world, I have heard that my degrees are going to be absolutely meaningless. In fact, I can’t seem to go anywhere without hearing how useless they are. I will never, ever, ever, ever, EVER be getting a job. And in this economy? Whew, engineers are having trouble getting jobs. I mean, those are smart people who do real things. What chance does someone like you have against intelligent people with actual skills? Sure, you study English. I’m certain that you will be called upon to explicate poems all the time in the real world. Oh yes, studying history means that you’ll always be welcome on the trivia team. It’s not like you learn any useful skills.

People, I have grown up hearing this. And do you know what’s funny? People still encouraged me to get the degree that I wanted. I was always told to study what makes me happy and to find a job that I enjoy. At the same time, I am currently studying what I enjoy, and, for some reason, I seem to be getting no end of shit for it. And I’m part of the problem. I’ve spent the last five or so years of my life joking about how useless my degrees are going to be. I’ve told everyone how I have no idea what I’m going to do with my future. I’ve made cracks about how easy English and History are compared to real degrees. Well no-fucking-more. From now on, anyone who condescendingly inquires what, exactly, are my plans for the useless piece of paper I am soon to receive? will be told to mind their own goddamned business. I don’t know what made me snap. Maybe I saw one too many of those “Math + Science = Success!” signs that encourage parents to teach their children important subjects. Or maybe it was that blog post I saw. It featured what appeared to be a whiny, privileged, little snot who had graduated from Stanford with an English degree and found himself unable to find a job. He whined about how he had no skills or work experience and how, when he took a year off to “find himself” and “work on his writing,” he wound up sitting on his ass all the time. Oh, he was in a frat back in college too. So, he decided to start a blog in order to do something. Look, if you spend all of college getting wasted and barely scraping by in your classes, I don’t think you can blame your degree when you can’t get a job.

And you know what else? My degrees in English and History ARE useful. Do you know what I can do? I CAN FUCKING WRITE. I can put ideas into words that other people can read and understand, and I CAN DO IT BETTER THAN MOST PEOPLE. Nobody seems to appreciate the importance of writing. And no, I do not want to be an ~author, nor do I consider myself a particularly creative writer. The fact is that, if you have a great idea or a magnificent breakthrough in science, and you cannot write, no one is going to care because POOR WRITING MAKES YOU LOOK STUPID. I’ve had people tell me: “Grammar and style don’t matter for this paper; the teacher doesn’t grade for that. It’s the ideas that matter.” Hell, I’ve had teachers tell me that. EVERYONE WHO SAYS THIS IS WRONG. DEAD. FUCKING. WRONG. Yes, some teachers don’t take off points for grammar or style. That’s true. However, anybody who reads your paper is going to be influenced by your writing. A well-written paper will be more positively received than a poorly-written one simply because it sounds better. A good writer is able to express their ideas more clearly and intelligently. That sort of thing ALWAYS affects the way a paper is graded. English and history also, surprisingly enough, encourage analytical thinking. Now, I’m not a super-smart science major or anything, but I would make the cautious assumption that engaging with texts and attempting to draw conclusions from them in an analytical fashion is probably good for your neurons.

“It’s soooo easy to get an English degree!” You might protest. Yes, it can be. It’s fairly easy to BS things or slam together a last-minute paper. It’s relatively easy to avoid reading things. And yet, I see a lot of people within the English department with poor GPA’s. I see people walk out of my classes clutching C’s. Maybe, just maybe, it isn’t quite as easy as everyone thinks. And what I don’t see are all of the holier-than-thou science majors being told that they have to write a six page paper on a six line poem, which is a shame because I think it would be funny. And no, there really isn’t an English equivalent to O Chem. Hell, a science degree, especially UGA’s, are harder than an English degree. That doesn’t make your degree inherently better than mine. It isn’t a pissing contest. The arts and the sciences are both important in their own ways. I went into the liberal arts because it is what I enjoy doing, and it is where my skills are. If your skills lean towards science and math, great. Just don’t act like you deserve more credit because your degree is somehow more “useful” or “important.”

And for the love of God, stop asking those of us with liberal arts degrees what we intend to do with ourselves–even if you are expressing genuine concern or interest. After hearing it for a while, you all just start to look like assholes.

PS: It goes without saying that this blog post was written in order to avoid working on that aforementioned degree. However, the work currently being avoided is Latin rather than my usual paper. My impending midterm is making me greatly miss the papers of last week.

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10 responses

  1. Pingback: Re-Blog’d « Culture Ego Electric

  2. My BA was in Political Science and Philosophy. I went into computers. I wanted to become a writer, so I studied archaeology and forensic anthropology as a grad student. What people seem to forget is that liberal arts degrees are about training the mind to think–not perform a rote set of tasks that will be quickly outdated.

    You’re correct–the ability to accurately convey information is a necessary skill, but more important than that is the ability to think critically–and that’s what liberal arts provides.

  3. A few days ago a bunch of us here were talking majors, and I offhandedly mentioned I was thinking about tacking on a Women’s Studies major to my English major. Most responses were positive; one was: “Ah, two useless degrees!”

    I didn’t really have the strength to explain why “fuck off” would be an appropriate response, so I didn’t say anything. Basically you have summed it up. Basically, I agree 100%.

  4. Isn’t it great that the only reason my post complaining about my English degree was successful was because the English degree I’d gotten taught me how to complain in a clever and compelling way? The success of the post really belies its content. Don’t tell anyone, but I love my English degree (also, I didn’t join a frat until AFTER I graduated from Stanford, but that’s a story for another time haha)

  5. You are a giant of intellectual acuity. I am monstrously proud to be your father!
    And you are right. Only those who can think well matter.

  6. Ooooh Megan. :P

    Thank you for your comment Russ. I think you’ve made a good point. I do find it fascinating that it became so popular though. There is no accounting for the whims of “the internet.”

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