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'Don't waste your education years studying writing'

Discussion in 'Sports and News' started by Dick Whitman, Jul 1, 2013.

  1. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    That's the advice that a writer in the New York Times letters section today relays to readers. The letter is one of a batch of them in response to a recent piece about the decline of humanities majors. (I believe the WSJ also had such a piece recently that we may have discussed here):


    Anyway, it's interesting advice, and advice I largely agree with, with the benefit of hindsight. I did love both of my majors, at the time, journalism and English. But I don't feel like I left college with any practical expertise. On the other hand, I'm not sure I would have made my way to Hemingway and Shakespeare on my own, and my engagement with them and others have certainly enriched my life. Had I it to do over again, though, assuming the same goal of becoming a journalist, I would have probably majored in something like international relations or economics, along with a humanity. Maybe history. Maybe philosophy. Maybe even English again. Is political science a humanity? Maybe that.

    A fuller excerpt from the letter:

    Sixty-five years ago, in my first year of college, I attended a briefing by various faculty representatives to help freshmen decide which subject to major in.

    The professor from Harvard’s English department gave us some surprising but firm advice: If you think that you’d like to be a writer one day, he said, don’t waste your education years studying writing. Instead, learn some of the fascinating things in our great wide world that you may want to write about.
  2. doctorquant

    doctorquant Well-Known Member

    Yours truly majored in Political Science with a minor in English (woulda majored in English but for its heavier foreign language requirements). Sometimes I look at my diploma and wonder why it wasn't stamped "Non Negotiable."

    These contemporary stories hit pretty close to home, though. My oldest will leave the nest in a few weeks to start her "real" college career at a huge, well-regarded state school (she spent her freshman year in a guarantee-transfer program close to home). She'll be majoring in English (and, yes, I am doing the paying). I truly believe in the value of a liberal arts education, but I am strongly encouraging her to use the flexibility those majors provide to take lots of "useful" electives. Among the courses I am going to browbeat her into taking are: 1) Calculus; 2) Economics (micro, not macro); 3) Principles of Finance; and 4) some computer programming language. I don't know that they'll have immediate practicality, but they're better than simply an extra course in the humanities (with huge overlaps between other courses she'll already have taken).

    I've already had one success ... she took statistics as her required freshman math course (taught by the very weird brother of a colleague). There were some humorous moments, such as when she said "I think sometime I'd like to take a course about how to use Excel," to which I replied, "Wow, and if only you knew someone who knew a little bit about Excel."
  3. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    I think that there is some merit to that for writing. Unless you are lucky enough to have writing professor that really sparks and challenges you, you are probably better off opening your eyes and learning things.

    But I think this whole shift to -- science, math and technology is the only thing that matters and humanities majors are future drains on society -- is really short-sighted and foolish.
  4. Mizzougrad96

    Mizzougrad96 Active Member

    It's pretty good advice...

    Even being out of journalism, I do have to write up business plans and my bosses have been pleased that it's something I can do very quickly and keep it as concise as possible, two things I definitely learned while in journalism, so those skills have served me well.
  5. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    Kids can't write any more. Everybody keeps saying it. And I don't think it falls into the, "Get off my lawn!" category, either. It's a legitimate problem and an unintended consequence that public policy is currently scrambling to address.
  6. Mizzougrad96

    Mizzougrad96 Active Member

    I double majored in Political Science and Journalism and I probably learned more useful skills in journalism than I did in Poly Sci, not that that's saying much.

    If you major in economics, business or just about any science, you're going to have a much easier time finding work than if you major in journalism, humanities, literature, philosophy, history, poly sci, etc...
  7. Mizzougrad96

    Mizzougrad96 Active Member

    Agreed. It's something that should be taught during the core classes that everybody has to take in college.
  8. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    I'd put an enormous asterisk by business, though. It's become as useless as some of these humanities majors, to be honest. It's a default major for college students with a smidgen of smarts but no intellectual curiosity.
  9. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    Also, I think that this goes way deeper than college. Elementary, middle, and high school teachers are dropping the ball here. Well, they have been incentivized to drop the ball, as you can't grade an essay on a state-issued scantron sheet.
  10. doctorquant

    doctorquant Well-Known Member

    That's probably overbroad. There are lots of business majors, other than in small liberal arts schools. When I teach undergraduates I have students majoring in several business disciplines -- accounting, finance, real estate, marketing, general management -- and the heterogeneity (both in smarts and curiosity) across and within the majors is striking. My weakest students tend to marketing and general management (perhaps your generic "business" major), and my strongest students tend to accounting and finance. But the exceptions are almost the rule. I'll never forget the young lady, majoring in finance, who told me she was struggling in my course because she wasn't "good at math."
  11. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    I concur that accounting and finance are different.
  12. It's too late to wait until college to teach someone how to write.
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