Archive for July, 2010

July 10, 2010

The Case for Humanities: Pt. 1

This is a little different—nonfiction! A long-form essay concerning my day job as an English Teacher.


When asked by a parent or a friend what it is we do, we English teachers are hard-pressed to provide a concise response. Consequently, people tend to view our subject as airy, or superfluous. I so often hear how nice it is that I get to teach an “easy” subject, or that I can cover whatever I want in my class. The Math and the Science teachers, by contrast, have the truly noble mission in education: it is theirs to prepare the children for the realities of the world, while I drone on about poetry. History teachers suffer similar fates in the eyes of friends and parents, although the study of our past has more immediate relevance than, say, the motives of Iago in Othello. Shakespeare is fiction, after all; what real purpose could it serve?

Here and now, I throw down the gauntlet. My job has value, as do the other professions concerning the humanities. How they matter is harder to explain, and impossible to quantify, so most do not attempt to estimate the humanities’ value. This creates an air of condescension among engineers and business people toward those of us with “liberal arts” degrees. Our studies are not real work, it would seem.

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