I get asked all the time why I chose to study literature at university. Almost every conversation starts with, “so, you want to be a teacher?” or “are you a writer?” or, “who is your favorite author?”
My. God. It gets so damn old. I think I speak for a majority of literature scholars when I say that I don’t know if I’ll be a teacher or a writer and I do not know who my favorite author is because it has been four years since I’ve sat down with a novel for real pleasure.
World literacy rates are terrifying. Just check The World Factbook to see how very ignorant our world is. Everyday, I get emails with job offers from schools all over the world. They beg for English majors to teach our language to not only their youth, but also adult professionals and world leaders. For me, teaching English to international college students and business professionals was the most rewarding experience… ever. And words cannot describe, (and that’s coming from a writer) just how important those students made me feel as this foreign place became their homes and their new lives began.
People hear that I study literature, and they assume that I am a grammar Nazi or some huge nerd. Truth is, most of us English majors are simply bookworms that want an open playing field when we do (eventually) graduate. People often joke that studying English could just as well qualify as majoring in unemployment. Ha-ha. Knowing how to write and communicate well is one of the most important skills a person could master. Employers recognize this when they receive our cover letters. We just spent four years learning the mastery of informing and persuading any audience. Wonder if we can seduce a hiring manager with our flawless plea for a job? Watch us. And bullshitting. We are, hands down, THE best at it. That’s why so many of us head to law school.
As English majors enter the workforce, the world presents a wide array of opportunities and we have achieved the worldliness to respect them. (And hey, if we aren’t as qualified for the job we want, we are SO damn good at reading up on it. The night before.)
In class, we study morale and culture. We analyze the ethical injustices and controversies of our big world. No, not just present-day drama; we have dissected stories from countless parts of history. We have examined the wrongs and the rights of every walk of life. We have plunged into the depths of imagination and explored the boundaries of one’s intellect. And we’re so damn open-minded. Because we recognize that a character IS a story and thus lack the ability to judge anyone. Because we’ve learned to accept characters like Oedipus and we all secretly loved the Machiavellian characters of King Lear. We respect religion because we’ve also criticized it. Because even those of us that aren’t Christians have read the bible, because it’s a damn respectable work of literature. We’ve questioned taboos, but more so the societies who circulate beliefs that form them. We have breathed the lives, in oh-so-many black-and-white pages, of both real and fictitious characters… characters that a majority of the population is “too busy” to meet. We have felt, firsthand, the highs and lows of members of different societies and we know bits of history of… everywhere.
We are the classmates that rid your paper of dangling modifiers when we still have 6 chapters of Virginia Woolf to read before our British Fiction class. We are the people that despise the word “literally,” because nobody uses it literally anymore. We are the members during group projects that revise the final report so that the professor thinks we are at least literate members of society. We are the scholars that truly miss the oxford comma (or at least know what it is). We are the friends that mutter, “well,” when you just said you’re doing “good,”—and yes, it may be annoying—but think about just how frustrated we are? It is our job nature to save your reputation by reminding you how to speak your own language. So, non-literature-world, stop picking on us. You need us.