To market English major, lean into love of books (opinion)

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When I started college at a small liberal arts college, I chose to double major: I studied biology because I liked it (and thought it would get me a job) and English because I liked it (and thought it wouldn’t). I was wrong on both counts. I tried to get closer to what I was. It is considered To do: After graduation, I worked in pharmaceuticals and then in material science. But my heart wasn’t in it, and after a few years I decided to go to graduate school to study literature. My middle-class parents gave up job security and a healthy income to pursue novels or … baseball and monster trucks (when I told him I was interested in American studies, my father actually asked if these were the topics I would research). I calmed their worries by telling them that if it didn’t make sense to me after two years, I could go back to science. But I never looked back. It was amazing, the motivation and great joy I felt to spend time with the things I love instead of trying to fake them.

I hurried out of the lab and into the library. My own way has convinced me that we do a grave disservice when we discourage or discourage students from finding and following. theirs Happiness. But I think that English departments are increasingly – albeit inadvertently and perhaps unknowingly – doing this. Following the attacks on English majors and literature and world language classes at West Virginia University (Argued most vigorously by An open letter In Rose Casey, Jessica Wilkerson, and Johanna Winant, “Why Literature?” When they have an answer to that question. He felt a new sense of urgency. There are already many answers, but the most common one I hear at work, the answer that departments often give in their efforts to get “into the chair” and recruit or convert students, is about the English major. Being effective training for a successful career. A quick tour of English department websites across the US reveals constant messages about “.Many marketable skills are highly valued by employers” and the “Different professions” for which English majors are uniquely suited. The major is considered the perfect choice for students. “Are you considering a career in technology, marketing or sales, or are you interested in journalism, science writing, publishing, editing or teaching?”

I do not disagree with these claims; On the contrary, I think English majors are curious and creative – they think well, they write well, they communicate well – and therefore they are suitable for many interesting careers. But one thing that always bothered me about this line of argument was that I was always marketing more to corporate executives and parents of students than to students who were majoring in English. Preparing students for professional success may be true, but this fact sits beside my own motivation to study and teach literature.

It’s embarrassing to say those motivations openly. But here, because we know the writings, we are taught to study. We don’t have to accept that—it’s too naive, too polite, too sophisticated, or impractical, not cool, not good enough in the real world. We still tell our students who dare to apply for graduate school in English not to say they want to get an MA or a PhD. Because they love to read; We feast our eyes on the application essays that we “always love to read”. Most of us downplay or underestimate the love of books, even though that’s the real reason we got into this profession. But what if underestimating our passion for creativity, professionalism, facilitation—is a disservice to the field and our students? What if we should sell the love of literature and the joy of reading?

My guess is when to teach Literature, scholars teach methods of interpretation, critical thinking, historical context, and other things while always leaving room for romance. We want our students to love reading and provide them with the tools we think will help them develop that appreciation. But when it comes to our criticism and what we say about the English main publication in print, we avoid such naked assertions. Love isn’t cool – it’s warm and fuzzy and can feel like a “guilty pleasure”. Ariel Zibrack It is, he explains, unfruitful, and usually what we see as feminine. Although the Roland Barthes classic The joy of writing and soon, Rita Felsky’s work on attachmentargued that we should pursue the love readers feel for texts, often confining love to the classroom.

When did we stop believing that we should tell young people to study what motivates and inspires them? There are several answers to this question: historical answers based on market failures and vampiric student loan practices; Traditional answers that point to STEM – serious ideas of success and prestige; Societal reactions related to the overall devaluation of humanity. But all of them converge around the notion that certain majors lead to certain jobs, and so we strive to make sure that an English major does well on that front. Even if I agree — and I do, at least because my communication and writing skills helped me get those STEM jobs — there’s something rotten in this logic. My understanding is the number of people with undergraduate degrees. Directly It informs what they do is really very little; It’s hard to draw a direct line from an undergraduate transcript to the day-to-day work of someone in human relations or marketing, or even law or medicine.

Most important, however, is the fact that I don’t think this message will work on the students it is designed to persuade. Although students (and to a point, their parents) may want some reassurance about the kinds of returns they can expect from the astronomical investments that are a college education today, they’re smart enough to realize all this hand-waving about career prospects. What it is: Marketing is about creating leads, meeting metrics, pleasing managers. It’s a strategy that serves departments more than students, and our undergraduates—especially those drawn to the humanities—see right through it. And when you talk to students who have chosen to study literature, almost all of them will tell you that they made this decision out of love. I think if we had nurtured that passion earlier, we would have done a better and more credible job of selling English majors.

“Study what you love” is a surprisingly radical invitation in the neoliberal university. In a more cynical formulation, it could be followed by the introduction “… because it is not guaranteed Any Work in Marketing Today” But there are many positives to the love of literature. First of all, and in direct contrast to all the languages ​​of work and wages, reading is a personal pleasure, which defies the capitalist logic of being usable and accessible. Christopher Newfield argued that “The non-neoliberal self [is] It is clearly documented and much spoken in the literature”, but let me say that the “non-neoliberal self” is constructed and given breathing space in the process of reading. It is important that higher education is a place where students only participate in the subjects they are interested in. must be.But that they feel free to explore what they want. Ignacio M. Sanchez Prado It is rightly argued That the ability to pursue such happiness should be open to all students, not just students: “Universities, especially public institutions, make the humanities and arts accessible to first-generation and working-class students, as well as minority students. Identity backgrounds. In doing so, they embodied a utopian ideal: the right of these students to have intellectual lives and enrich themselves through creative endeavors.

But why literature? My short answer is that reading for pleasure is, paradoxically, also hard work. Reading cannot really be done passively: it requires imagination and participation. Readers must name the images and worlds depicted on the page. But most of all, reading takes time. as if A wonderful essay Art historian Jennifer L. Roberts describes “The Power of Patience” as focusing on “creating opportunities for students to slow down, be patient, and pay attention.” Reading a novel requires this patience and rewards rapt attention. Reading a novel, whether long or short, requires a much greater time commitment than the typical scroll-click-click Internet ecosystem where students spend most of their time. Anyone who has ever enjoyed a novel’s ending, been shocked by a plot twist, or felt satisfied when they reach the last page of a book or the last line of a poem, knows this to be true. For me, it’s not just a matter of broadening focus, but of combining joy and effort. Loving what we do, working on what we love: This is not only a slogan that can be adopted at work, but a deeply personal experience that I have found to be crucial to my own existence. Most progress and many rewards come only with time and hard work: learning that patience and effort can be rewarding is a lesson that must be shared with our students. This kind of payoff, whether we call it patience, self-motivation or persistence, doesn’t easily translate into bullet points for your resume. But in my experience, it contributes to a richer inner life, and more skills in dealing with the challenges of outer life.

This is what we call the social value of joy in learning, and I believe that if we don’t believe in it and believe in it for our students, we’re ceding power to the professional model. Corporate University. Market pressures have done a great job of destroying this value, but we have contributed to the risk. In literary criticism and scholarship, love is seen as uncritical, uncomplicated. Condemnation, disparagement and making claims: these are considered high orders and a sure way to professional success. I believe this is a white, masculine approach to knowledge, but that is a topic for another essay. For now, I’ll just say that canon wars, theory wars, strategy wars, the death of principals: these things make headlines. While some battles are important, because they represent a very real conflict between white supremacist ideologies and those who seek to dethrone them, critics often seem to be fighting over the scraps we leave to ourselves. These internal, individual battles drain our energy and distract us from what we do best in the classroom—the social value of the joy of learning in students.

There are real enemies threatening English departments that we must fight: coercion, corporatization, predatory student loan practices, tuition inflation, and the downsizing of entire departments. I just want to be sure that we are not confusing fighting for love and fighting for love.

Sarah Wasserman is Associate Professor of English and Director of the Center for the Study of Material Culture at the University of Delaware.

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