Answers served with a couple disclaimers and some adamant statements of value
Flip the Otter searched: Why are English degrees important?
Disclaimer: I own an English degree. I worked hard to get my English degree, for four years, under professors who could scare the heartbeat out of me and who did make me stretch until even Mr. Fantastic looked at me pityingly. I valued that English degree so highly, that I paid ninety thousand dollars to study at a university that was well-respected for its English program. I have a bias in favor of English degrees, but I’ll try not to use reasons like “because English is awesome!”
My mother once told me that she preferred math over English, because math was easily graded. There was one right answer, everything else was the wrong answer. You were taught the system, taught to work it through, and at the end, it was easy to see if you had succeeded or failed. Nothing was hung on a guess. It was all black and white.
English was a mash of frustrating grays. There was no right answer. There was no system to perform. There was a series of guesses, each one hanging off the last, some of which could be turned from stable to implosive by moving a comma.
And I’m going to argue that that’s exactly why English degrees are important.
It is important to know facts, to understand systems like “two plus two will always equal four (in base five or higher),” to be able to calculate accurately, to be able to logic out absolute truths. It is equally important to understand that there are worthwhile things that can’t be understood that way.
Love is incalculable, but requires consideration so that we can separate it from want, need, or admiration. Family has a definition, but it won’t stop family doesn’t end with blood from being true. Courageous and fearless look similar, are not the same, are very close, and its the gap between them that matters. Failure and success might be opposites, or they might be a non-linear progression.
English teaches us to ask about the unmeasurable, to guess, to adjust to the unknowable or the only-partially-assessable.
And it teaches us about commas so we don’t accidentally threaten to eat grandma, when we mean to invite her to dinner.
Plutarch, a very old, very dead, very smart man, wrote, “The correct analogy for the mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting – no more – and then it motivates one toward originality and instills the desire for truth.” English, along with many other fields, is important, because it encourages kindling.