English Without Literature: A Practical Curriculum (Guest Editorial)

English Without Literature: A Practical Curriculum (Guest Editorial)

Clayton Jaksha, Senior

View English department head Mr. Jeffrey McMurtry’s response to the following article here.

Amy Lowell, an American poet and Pulitzer Prize recipient, once noted that “art is the desire of a man to express himself, to record the reactions of his personality to the world he lives in”. Art has found a unique niche in human existence, acting as both an outlet of emotion and a canvas of creation. A myriad of art media of art surround us (visual, audible, expressive art, etc.), yet often individuals find inspiration and artistic value in only one or two of those avenues of expression. In modern schooling, artistic education finds its place in visual art, creative writing, art history, drama, and music education and students are never forced to study an art that they do not feel personally ‘connected’ to. The prodigious bassoonist will never have to take a theater class and, similarly, the spotlighted thespian will never have to lay a finger on the glockenspiel. Schools should not mandate students to endure instruction in an art to which the student cannot connect, yet it continues to happen.

Literature―n. [Lit-er-uh-cher] “The body of artistic writings of a country or period that are characterized by beauty of expression and form and by universality of intellectual and emotional appeal”[1]. Literature is art, but it is far from universally appealing. Not everyone can connect intellectually and emotionally to literature, yet every student that passes through a decent primary and secondary education has been force-fed the text, history, and analysis of this art form. For too long the moniker of ‘English’ has been branded onto a subject that actually just uses literature to teach writing and critical thinking. These skills have become so intertwined with literature over the years that it seems far-fetched to teach them without it. However, as a field that studies art, literature should be on the same level as art history, ceramics, and music.

If literature were to be separated from the core curriculum and recategorized to the arts (where it belongs), writing and critical thinking could be taught using a more practical curriculum centered in philosophy, rhetoric, and the social sciences. If critical thinking were to be taught through those subjects, students would be exposed to a broader range of academic disciplines instead of being caught in the rut of studying one subject (literature) for four years. After all, high school is the time for a general education; there is time for specialization and concentration on one subject in college.

It is important to remember that separating literature from English class does not entail entirely cutting literature out of the curriculum. Literature, as a course, would be offered as an art credit so students that feel inspired by the written works of the past can delve further into their passions. In reaction to this proposed plan, one might say “how will students become educated in the humanities without literature?” The answer is simple: while being familiar with the culture and art of the past is nice, the job market students will eventually graduate into does not need those with humanities-based educations. Encarta, one of Microsoft’s many web platforms, ranked the most valuable college majors on the basis of job availability and mid-career salary and found engineering, computer science, economics, accounting, and nursing topping the list [2]. Conversely, Newsweek did a study on the 20 ‘most useless’ college majors and English ranked a disappointing 19th worst of the 20 (approximately 55,000 college seniors will graduate with a degree in English this year to find only around 6,000 job openings where their degree will be relevant) [3]. Even more, Fast Company, a business journal based in New York, researched the top 25 jobs in the post-recession economy and ranked them off job growth, education, salary range, and innovation indexes. The list was packed with titles like environmental engineer, computer analyst, and geo-scientist while jobs that might require a humanities-based education were limited to ‘actor’ and ‘post-secondary education administrator’ [4]. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are factually the most valuable areas of study and, according to Pulitzer Prize winning author Thomas Friedman in his bestselling book The World is Flat, STEM jobs will grow exponentially in the coming years due to technological globalization [5]. In other words, knowing the courting practices of Victorian England may have less practical relevance than the current educational system gives it.

In the end, the only thing that matters in primary and secondary education is that students can grow in their academic pursuits and find a subject they feel a strong connection with. Having a broader education in philosophy, rhetoric, and the social sciences would allow for academic exploration while teaching practical material that will be more useful a tight job market than the humanities. Without the oppressive burden of having to endure another novel they find no interest in, the fire of scholastic enthusiasm could finally be let loose to blaze its own trail within academia.


[1] “Literature | Define Literature at Dictionary.com.” Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com, LLC. Web. 06 Dec. 2011. <http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/literature>.

[2] Kaufman, Clare. “5 High-Paying College Majors.” Encarta. Microsoft Corporation. Web. 06 Dec. 2011. <http://encarta.degreesandtraining.com/articles.jsp?article=featured_5_high_paying_college_majors>.

[3] “20 Most Useless Degrees.” Newsweek. Newsweek/The Daily Beast, LLC, 27 Apr. 2011. Web. 06 Dec. 2011. <http://www.thedailybeast.com/galleries/2011/04/27/20-most-useless-degrees.html>.

[4] Quinn, Matt. “The 25 Top Jobs for 2008-2010.” FastCompany.com. Mansueto Ventures, LLC. Web. 06 Dec. 2011. <http://www.fastcompany.com/articles/2005/01/top-jobs-main.html?page=0,1>.

[5] Friedman, Thomas L. The World Is Flat: A Brief History of The 21st Century. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005. Print.

Clayton Jaksha is a guest opinion writer; his views do not reflect those of El Cid’s editorial staff.

View English department head Mr. Jeffrey McMurtry’s response to the above  article here.