Although I just killed my second blog on politics, gender, mental health, and a host of other topics, I don’t like getting political on this one. I’d rather stick to posts on writing and flash fiction pieces.
But in light of what could possibly the greatest political scandal in American history and in my lifetime, as well the weaponization of false information as a war tactic, I’d like to take this time to reflect on what it means for me to have a degree in the Humanities.
Because no matter what political views you might hold, no matter what religion you do or do not practice, being able to critically think about and analyze material that’s put in front of you no matter what medium it’s in, as well as articulating your opinions about it, is a skill that everyone should have.
A Degree in English
I got a Bachelors in English because I wanted to tell lies for profit (ethically, of course). In other words, I wanted to be a novelist that told you the truth, but through crafted worlds, characters, and plots.
Yet when I signed up as an English major, I was not prepared for the avalanche of reading that I would do. I mean, yes. To some extent, I was prepared. I’d taken AP Language and Literature. But in the high school semester system, you were assigned a decent amount of pages per week, and nothing more.
But just to give you an idea, when I started my second year of studies I bought 14 different books just for one quarter. And you can bet a good number of those 14 books wouldn’t be read ever again after that quarter.
Now imagine buying that amount of books every quarter for at least three years.
Some days, I remember having to read 500-page books in two weeks or less. I remember having to teach myself how to speed-read through an entire book in one day just so I could keep up with the class. (Thank god I didn’t have to write an essay on that book.)
But if you asked me if I wanted a do-over, I’d tell you no. I wouldn’t change anything about it. Because with all that reading, I honed what I think to be one of the most valuable skills in the world: the ability to think critically.
Thinking critically means you can look at something, tell what it says, what it means, and why it matters. In the context of literature, it means you can argue why an author would use a semicolon over a comma. In the context of art history, it means you can argue why an artist used primary colors to convey a sense of order in a painting.
In the context of daily conversation or even watching the news, it means you can tell when someone is telling you the truth and when someone is lying to your face. It means you can tell when someone is giving you clay mixed with sugar instead of the peanut butter you were promised on your sandwich.
And, more importantly than the what, you know why and how they’re doing it.
My teachers didn’t have me read Shakespeare because Shakespeare was the world’s best writer. He’s not; he’s a hack. But I don’t mind that he’s a hack, because many great writers are, and should be, inspired by their predecessors. Studying Shakespeare, more importantly, gave me insight into how to scan meter, recognize how the political climate of his time influenced his work, and even inspire me to use iambic pentameter in the novel I’m currently writing.
Reading everything from Chaucer to Ray Bradbury has given me the kind of training that would help me become a teacher, reporter, marketing manager, medical social worker, lawyer, and even a technical writer. And mind you, these are good-paying jobs, so just because I have an English degree, or even just the fact that it’s a Humanities degree, doesn’t automatically mean I’m going to starve to death.
No, no, no. According to these 10 CEOs, my Humanities degree isn’t worthless at all.
But even then, I’m not even talking about money here.
I’m talking about being human in an age where being human is being tested.
“All subjects matter!”
Before you cry “All subjects matter!” or that more girls should go into STEM fields, or more people should learn how to balance a checkbook, or that more kids should be taking calculus instead of getting a Humanities degree that doesn’t pay, allow me to say the following:
I agree with you.
All educational fields should matter.
But the truth is, they don’t.
If all subjects really, truly mattered, why is the White House trying to de-fund the National Endowments for the Arts? It’s all well and good that NASA gets funding to explore Mars, but what about all the potential astronauts watching Sesame Street? What about the artists and creators and innovators out there that help this world grow?
Are we going to let them die while there are people out there telling lies for profit unethically via Twitter bots? Are we just going to sit back and let Sesame Street die because of a certain man’s ego and disdain for parody?
I realize that some of you reading this aren’t American citizens and aren’t dealing with the political fallout of this directly, but even if you aren’t, just imagine for a moment if the world had no more critical thinkers. If the world didn’t have more journalists, artists, reporters, lawyers, social workers, CEOs, philosophers, historians — where would would be right now? Where would we end up? A pretty dark place, I imagine.
So let’s keep the lights on, shall we?