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I would like to preface this editorial by clarifying that we, English majors, do not dispute the value of the STEM fields. We know that the work scientists, chemists, mathematicians, doctors, etc. do is extremely important. We just get a little exasperated with the constant attack on the value of English literature and the overall practice and study of writing in our society.
How many times have you heard a student complain about the low-level English course they are required to take: “what’s the point of this class anyway? All we do is read articles and listen to a professor pick apart the author’s intentions for every word – not every adjective has a specific meaning, right?”
Wrong. We understand that it may be hard to see the intrinsic value of our work. A young adult book about cauliflower or a nonfiction essay about blue spoons may seem absolutely pointless when the material you are used to working with is of such tangible necessity to the world. You create vaccines, design new feats of human architecture and change the world in such a beautiful, physical way. We just want you to see that, through the study and practice of rhetoric and language, we play an important part in the advancement of society, too.
Persuasive writing jumps to the front of my mind. We can help you get the necessary grants to fund your research. We can share your stories with this generation and the ones to come. We can convince the world to give science a chance. We can halt the march of progress or we can get a whole population to ring in the age of a new era gladly. We are well-equipped and well-educated, and we, too, insist on changing the world.
We want you to love your degrees, your professions. We want you to be proud of your research; we are proud of you, too. But we deserve recognition, as well, instead of a downturned nose at our Shakespeare textbooks and our Faulkner collection. For it is in the writings of the past that we find our future. It is realistic to say that every classic you read in high school commented in some way on both the society of its publication and our society right now.
Whether you believe that he was one author or a collection of many, Shakespeare created characters that test the idea of gender even today. “The Taming of the Shrew,” which is considered to be one of Shakespeare’s earliest works, was written around the year 1592. This is a play in which the main character provides an extremely important commentary on the construction of gender. She is a woman who acts “like a man” but she makes us question what it even means to act “like a man”? It’s a play that condemns the idea of solid gender in the 1500s; that’s pretty incredible.
“The Canterbury Tales,” written by Geoffrey Chaucer and originally published around 1390, provides satirical criticism of a Medieval society in which the members of the church construct a façade of holiness but are, in fact, failing to meet their Christian duties.
These issues are still prominent in our society, though progress has been begrudgingly made. And, yes, while it is not only the authors and the artists who draw attention to these subjects, their writing provides a more humanistic view into the lives of those who have struggled for so long, aching and asking for empathy.
The current movement of YA literature is an excellent example of how literature can change an entire society’s perspective. Think of “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas. This is a YA fiction novel, a genre so often underestimated and underappreciated. Yes, it is a fictional story, but it is based off of real experiences.
So, when your professor tells you that the color red in this passage means something, listen. We don’t expect you to enjoy it. We don’t particularly enjoy long division or the periodic table. However, we understand that these subjects are important, and we try to give them the credit that they deserve. All we ask is that you do the same.
Just remember, when you make history, we’ll be the ones writing about it.