“Oh … so you want to be a teacher?” There is no question more irksome, and it always comes after I confess that I’m an English major.
Some people will go on to half-jokingly say how sorry they are for me. Others, those without even the slightest social skills, will tell me a liberal arts degree is purposeless.
That’s where they’re wrong. The significance of a liberal arts degree is not in the specific major or concentration that a student chooses, but rather the transferable skills that are learned, refined, polished and of lifelong use in the job market. We write essays that foster our ability to analyze, evaluate and critique literature, ideas and opinions. We refuse to take information at face value and constantly rethink and question what appears as plain fact to others. We challenge what many accept without considering alternative perspectives.
This gives us the inclination to constantly pursue anything that will educate us further and allow us greater insight into the complexities of human thought and its meaning. It is what makes us innovators, not with our hands but with a much more powerful tool — our minds. We can create new meaning from the original thought of others and can intellectually and emotionally engage with text and the people who write it. The repetitive use of these skills lets us work with people of various temperaments and work ethics.
Those hundreds of essays we write nurture our ability to articulate a point of view or an argument that is clear and concise. This discipline not only makes us well-written individuals, but well-spoken ones too. Our expansive literary experience trains us to note differences in tone, writing style and diction. We intertwine words as seamlessly as basket weavers do wicker — our prose is strong, durable and carries a lot of weight.
Stephen King said writers have the ability to perform telepathy. In his memoir “On Writing,” he says writers have the power to create a mental image with the use of description, storytelling and figurative language that is so vivid it exists to readers. This creates closeness between reader and writer and brings us into the same space mentally although we may be in different locations and time periods. Writers can make our readers see our images and feel our words without ever having to open our mouths. This power is what makes our words believable, it is what makes us sound confident and authoritative.
Companies look for students who think as individuals, have a creative edge and can tailor written and verbal communication to the audience they are addressing. They value liberal arts students who have mastered many transferable skills. We can tell you what to say and how to say it so that you will secure any business deal. We can write the emails that create connections between employees and employers across different companies and industries to provide a service, receive one or come together on a collaborative project. We have a heightened sense of communication; a sixth sense that can defuse tense situations and prevent them as well.
There is more to writing essays and reading books than English majors are given credit for. They make us effective communicators, help us accept constructive criticism and foster teamwork. They make us problem solvers, teach us initiative, planning and organization, and, most important, how to always keep learning.
To those who count us out and believe that we are not equally valuable as you are to employers: Keep believing that we have no secure place in the job market. Keep doubting our ability, our worth and the multitude of skills and experience that we possess. We want you to. The greatest way to beat your opponents is to never let them see you coming. So, keep on.