woman reading outside

Did you see the recent New Yorker article called The End of the English Major, by Nathan Heller?

“During the past decade, the study of English and history has fallen by a full third. Humanities enrollment in the United States has declined over all by seventeen per cent . . .”
—Nathan Heller, The New Yorker, The End of the English Major

At first, I was shocked to learn that humanities enrollment had dropped by so much; but then I thought about how much STEM has been pushed in recent years. STEM skills are important in our society; but so are the skills acquired in the humanities.

I assume this is just a normal fluctuation, and not a permanent trend. The article did not say this, though.

It is interesting that students interviewed for the article seemed to think that an English major was a ticket to a failed career, whereas a STEM major was guaranteed money. Ironically, I think my parents were thrilled when I ultimately chose English as a major; my original choice had been music—generally viewed as even less lucrative.

If any young person—or parent—is reading this, I would like to assure you that it is possible to forge a fine career with an English major. With my two English degrees, I started out as a high school teacher, and then transitioned into writing and editing in the field of education, and then transitioned into writing and editing in the federal space. Perhaps I could have made more money with the chemistry major that I declared at one point during my college education, and soon dropped. And I have to admit that my salary as a teacher in rural parts of the country was shockingly low. But all in all, I have made a good career for myself, and I have been able to do (for the most part) what I love.

Also, and just as importantly: reading and understanding difficult works of literature, and understanding how language works, has enhanced my life enormously beyond their monetary value. Truly, the way things are is not what it seems on the surface. Books are a window into other people’s lives and brains, and into the inner workings of the universe. Gaining access to ideas and information opens up new possibilities. If you want a specific example of how my life has been enhanced by reading a book, read any Book Preview on this blog.

But enough soapboxing. Every young person must decide what makes their own heart sing: be it a STEM field, a humanity, or something else. Dabbling in statistics only helps us understand larger trends, not what each individual should do.

What makes your heart sing?