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Gene Fant, Professor of English at Union University:

I personally think that one of the reasons for the decline of English as an undergraduate major is because students aren't dull enough to sit through hours of professors telling them that words don't mean anything. Such an approach has caused the study of literature to rise up like yet another intellectual white elephant.

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17 thoughts on “Why English as an Undergrad Major Is Declining”

  1. Maybe it’s declining because people are Googling “English Undegrad Major” and not getting any hits except this post… ;-)

    1. ROFL!!!!

      Seriously. So glad to be starting the day laughing this hard.

  2. Theologian says:

    Perhaps English as a major is declining because people realize that it is very hard to get a job with an undegraduate degree in English, unless of course you go to a school like Harvard. One could even consider someone arguing that it is poor stewardship to go to school for four years to obtain a degree that provides very little if any vocational assistance (except for the very rare few). Now if one has the means to pursue even more education than an English undergrad can be a very helpful pre-liminary education.

  3. Theologian says:

    than should be then

    1. J.Clark says:

      I’d like to see more pastor’s major in English and Communications.

      “Print is dead.” -Egon

  4. Corn says:

    It’s not a marketable degree. You write, so what. Get a real degree in the sciences.

  5. Dan says:

    It is unfortunately not a marketable degree because some people only view the sciences as being a “real” degree. They don’t see the value in English and History, more’s the pity.

  6. Char says:

    I would say it has more to do with the vocational push of university now than ethics or anything else. Education no longer has the purpose of learning and knowing but serves the purpose of landing a job. That itself has to do with how much more egalitarian higher education has become-bit of a double edged sword really. If people must spend vast amounts of money on a degree, it has to be one that’s useful.

    But there have always been those who can’t understand the purpose of arts and humanities and discourage others from entering these disciplines. Giving them a “use” is not going to help much.

    That said, many of the science degrees are just as useless in landing jobs. In my field there are several women who have switched majors for that reason alone, out of kinesiology, microbiology and etc.

  7. Niles says:

    I’ve always said, if I had it to do over again, I would have majored in English or Lit in my undergrad. But to get off the ground one might have to add a MA or PHD in the subject. Which I would have loved to do. Anyway, back to financial planning.

  8. Aldous Huxtable says:

    To be fair, not all undergraduate English programs are based on semiotics and post-structuralism. Mine, for instance, has never given me the impression that words are worth nothing.

    And to be biased, I’d rather be in English undergrad for the rest of my life than to sit through one semester of science classes.

  9. colin mattoon says:

    just so you know it says undegrad not undergrad in the title. i dont care, but you may!

  10. One of the possible reasons is the approach that many colleges take with the program itself – most programs center on literature and literary criticism, while connected fields like Communication are more often attached to media programs, and Philosphy or Rhetoric connectd to Philosophy degrees. This makes no sense. English today is what Latin was for Rome – the world language of commerce and politics. (That’s not an argument for abandonding the study or adoption of other languages at all, or that American Christians ought not to exercise a little more interest in learning other languages. It’s just an assertian of what the landscape is currently.)

    The growth of the Internet and platforms for writing like the blogosphere mean that the demand for people with a command of the English language is increasing, not decreasing. That command comes from learning the language’s mechanics, reading and studying those who have mastered it in the past, and building those same skills into one’s own writing (and speaking).

    Furthermore, (as I’ve said to more than one group of bubble-brained teenagers in a Christian school classroom as a substitute teacher), Christians need to take seriously the methods by which God reveals Himself to us! As the Apostle John and the writer of Hebrews remind us, God revealed Himself in many times and many ways, but always through words. Not pictures, not liturgical dancing, words. The Word was made flesh. And now, we commune with God through His Word, and we gather weekly to receive His Word. That means something.

    And, yes, I was an English major. :)

  11. matt says:

    I actually was an English major in undergrad. I am now in seminary and I can say that the skills I gained in my undergrad (writing proficiently, knowing how to interact with a text, familiarity with different kinds of literature, grammar, etc.) have proven to be helpful. If I hadn’t planned on doing seminary afterwards, however, I can’t say I would have done it.

  12. Fresh off the heels of earning my master’s in English, I’m now happily re-learning the value and meaning of words, and the careful art of discovering — and enjoying — authorial intent.

    Like everything else in the world, God rules and reigns over academia. Our English departments can be redeemed, restored, reformed. So English majors, both present and future, don’t give up. Take dominion over literature!

  13. Aldous Huxtable says:

    Unfortunately, this kind of mindset has been around forever. I quote Giovanni Pico della Mirandola from the end of the 15th century:

    “Thus we have reached the point, it is painful to recognize, where the only persons accounted wise are those who can reduce the pursuit of wisdom to a profitable traffic; and chaste Pallas, who dwells among men only by the generosity of the gods, is rejected, hooted, whistled at in scorn, with no one to love or befriend her unless, by prostituting herself, she is able to pay back into the strongbox of her lover the ill-procured price of her deflowered virginity. I address all the complaints, with the greatest regret and indignation, not against the princes of our times, but against the philosophers who believe and assert that philosophy should not be pursued because no monetary value or reward is assigned it, unmindful that by this sign they disqualify themselves as philosophers. Since their whole life is concentrated on gain and ambition, they never embrace the knowledge of the truth for its own sake.”

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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