Education & Academia

Advice to College Students: Don’t Major in English

The bad news is that Shakespeare has disappeared from required courses in English departments at more than three-fourths of the top 25 U.S. universities, but the good news is that only 1.6 percent of America’s 19 million undergraduates major in English, according to Department of Education figures.

When I visit college campuses, students for years have been telling me that the English departments are the most radicalized of all departments, more so than sociology, psychology, anthropology, or even women’s studies.

That’s why it was no surprise that Cho Seung-Hui, the murderer of 32 students and teachers at Virginia Tech, was an English major.

In the decades before "progressive" education became the vogue, English majors were required to study Shakespeare, the pre-eminent author of English literature. The premise was that students should be introduced to the best that has been thought and said.

What happened? To borrow words from Hamlet: "Though this be madness, yet there is method in it." Universities deliberately replaced courses in the great authors of English literature with what professors openly call "fresh concerns," "under-represented cultures," and "ethnic or non-Western literature."

When the classics are assigned, they are victims of the academic fad called deconstructionism. That means: pay no mind to what the author wrote or meant; deconstruct him and construct your own interpretation, as in a Vanderbilt University course called "Shakespearean Sexuality," or "Chaucer: Gender and Genre" at Hamilton College.

The facts about what universities are teaching English majors were exposed this year by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. English majors are offered a potpourri of worthless courses.

Some English department courses are really sociology or politics.

Examples are "Gender and Sociopolitical Activism in 20th Century Feminist Utopias" at Macalester College; "Of Nags, Bitches and Shrews: Women and Animals in Western Literature" at Dartmouth College; and "African and Diasporic Ecological Literature" at Bates College.

Many undergraduate courses focus on extremely specialized subjects of interest only to the professor who is trying to "publish or perish," but of virtually no value to students. Examples are: "Beast Culture: Animals, Identity, and Western Literature" at the University of Pennsylvania; and "Food and Literature" at Swarthmore College.

Some English departments offer courses in pop culture. Examples are: "It’s Only Rock and Roll" at the University of California San Diego; "Animals, Cannibals, Vegetables" at Emory University; "Cool Theory" at Duke University; and "The Cult of Celebrity: Icons in Performance, Garbo to Madonna" at the University of Pennsylvania.

Of course, English professors now love to teach about sex. Examples are: "Shakesqueer" at American University; "Queer Studies" at Bates College; "Promiscuity and the Novel" at Columbia University; and "Sexing the Past" at Georgetown University.

Some English-department courses really belong in a weirdo department. Examples are: "Creepy Kids in Fiction and Film" at Duke University, which focuses on "weirdoes, creeps, freaks, and geeks of the truly evil variety"; "Bodies of the Middle Ages: Embodiment, Incarnation, Practice" at Cornell University; "The Conceptual Black Body in Twentieth-Century and Contemporary Visual Culture" at Mount Holyoke College; and "Folklore and the Body" at Oberlin College.

Replacing the classics with authors of children’s literature is now common. Assigned readings for college students include Dr. Seuss, J.K. Rowling, The Wizard of Oz, and Snow White.

Twenty years ago, University of Chicago Professor Allan Bloom achieved best-seller lists and fame with his book "The Closing of the American Mind." He dated the change in academic curricula from the 1960s when universities began to abandon the classic works of literature and instead adopt multicultural readings written by untalented, unimportant women and minorities.

Bloom’s book showed how the Western canon of what educated Americans should know – from Socrates to Shakespeare – was replaced with relativism and the goals of opposing racism, sexism and elitism. Current works promoting multiculturalism written by women and minorities replaced the classics of Western civilization written by the DWEMs, Dead White European Males.

Left-wing academics, often called tenured radicals, eagerly spread the message, and students at Stanford in 1988 chanted "Hey hey, ho ho, Western civ has got to go." The classicists were cowed into silence, and it’s now clear that the multiculturalists won the canon wars.

Shakespeare, Chaucer and Milton have been replaced by living authors who toe the line of multicultural political correctness, i.e., view everything through the lens of race, gender and class based on the assumption that America is a discriminatory and unjust racist and patriarchal society. The only good news is that students seldom read books any more and use Cliffs Notes for books they might be assigned.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni says "a degree in English without Shakespeare is like an M.D. without a course in anatomy. It is tantamount to fraud."

College students: Don’t waste your scarce college dollars on a major in English.

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  • [email protected]

    As an English major…I find this appalling! While I am impressed with her Matthew Arnold reference (even though she got the wording wrong…) this article is a total
    joke. Obviously this person has never read Shakespeare…I have read Shakespeare in several courses and am currently taking a SHAKESPEARE ONLY class…required for my major…and Shakespeare is practically oozing with sexual references.
    I’m sure my professor, who is a Shakespearean published by the Cambridge
    press, did not make up Shakespeare’s reference to Othello and Desdemona getting
    it on doggy style (something we covered in class today). This chick probably got a bad grade in an English course and is now using that as the reason behind her idiotic crusade against English majors. Pathetic.

  • john9000

    As an English major… I wish that I had understood this reality before going to college. I got my degree in 2005 and have worked in all kinds of jobs: light construction, truck driving, hotel desk clerk, online tutoring, ESL teacher in Korea, driving used cars in an auto auction, working on an ATM assembly line, and others. I’m now looking to try to get a job teaching English anywhere in the US and is looking to be extremely difficult because I’m not a certified teacher and don’t have the money to deal with the bureaucracy to get certified.

    The arguments that an English major gives a person the skills of argument, analysts, critical thinking and such must assume that the other majors don’t give those same skills, which is absolutely false. For every job I’ve had or have tried to get, I would have been better served with another degree. For every job that I’ve had that required a degree, such as teaching in Korea, any degree would have worked just as well: one of my fellow teachers majored in lawn architecture.
    Most of my understanding of literature and writing has come from teaching myself. For trying to get a teaching job, I’ve been reading all those classics that are being taught in middle school and high school because as a pure English major, none of the courses I took ever dealt with such petty literature. At my university, I had to take Shakespeare, but I did have a professor – not the Shakespeare professor – who argued against the requirement.
    So to anyone who wants to major in English, do yourself a favor: major in journalism or education, or double major with English and something guaranteed to get yourself a job. Otherwise you run the risk of being deeply in debt and desperate for any job above minimum wage.