My Third And Final Major Was English

David Brooks has written an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times called History for Dollars in which he advocates for studying the humanities, and it has me nogging.

Thanks to quinn.anya on Flickr for making this image available.

Brooks argues that studying the humanities will make a person more employable because they will be able to read and write well, will deeply understand human emotion, can think analogically, and can “befriend” what he calls “The Big Shaggy,” behaviors and phenomena that are difficult to explain. Of the latter, Brooks writes:

The observant person goes through life asking: Where did that come from? Why did he or she act that way? The answers are hard to come by because the behavior emanates from somewhere deep inside The Big Shaggy.

Technical knowledge stops at the outer edge. If you spend your life riding the links of the Internet, you probably won’t get too far into The Big Shaggy either, because the fast, effortless prose of blogging (and journalism) lacks the heft to get you deep below.

But over the centuries, there have been rare and strange people who possessed the skill of taking the upheavals of thought that emanate from The Big Shaggy and representing them in the form of story, music, myth, painting, liturgy, architecture, sculpture, landscape and speech. These men and women developed languages that help us understand these yearnings and also educate and mold them. They left rich veins of emotional knowledge that are the subjects of the humanities.

I object to his implication that blogs “lack the heft” of critical thought and inquiry, but I have to agree with almost every other proposition of his editorial. Let me tell you why.

My first major in college was journalism. I had spent the previous 3 years in high school tirelessly advocating for Freedom Of The Press and a separation of advertising and editorial (my main objective being to convince the school administrators that placing a Planned Parenthood ad in the student newspaper paper was not an endorsement for having sex). It made perfect sense that I would be a journalism major: I had prior experience on the newspaper and yearbook, passion, and it could be practical. I could get a job.

My second major was speech pathology and audiology. I changed it from journalism about a month into college because I decided I wanted to try to do something different from what I had been doing. It wasn’t an analytical decision at the time; it was more like wanderlust meets “I want to be employable after graduation.”

I liked this new major because I was learning in multiple disciplines: anatomy, language development and linguistics, psychology, neurology, etc. We also got to look at cadavers, which was scary and horrifying and amazing, all at the same time. However, in my first session in the speech clinic, when a distraught but forceful mother of a child with a bilateral lisp was insistent that we “FIX HIM!!!” in time for a speech he had to give at his church, my clinical supervisor turned to me and said, “Welcome to your future.” An off-the-cuff comment, but I listened.

My third and final major was English because I liked to write and I liked to read, and I didn’t want to spend time taking courses that I didn’t like. I temporarily set aside my pragmatic paycheck-oriented concerns and decided to focus on learning. And with that came great freedom and deep engagement and, as Brooks argues and I fully believe, marketability.

I have applied lessons from my English courses — from all of those Australian novels and Middle English Prologues and poems and essays and tree structures and Latin roots —  to every aspect of my work. From supervising and supporting employees, to preparing and monitoring budgets, to writing grants, to giving presentations to friendly and challenging audiences, to teaching and mentoring, to learning new computer programs or programming my voice mail, to communicating with various stakeholders and advocating with fierce grace, I call upon my English major skills and capacities of mind each and every day.

Brooks implies that there is money associated with a humanities education; I suspect that might be true (it has not been, for me). But what I DO have is compassion, creativity, energy, communication, and, in general, happiness with what I can and like to do.

My third and final major was English.  And as for The Big Shaggy? I’ll continue to nog on it, with heft (eh hem!), because, as Brooks asks:

…doesn’t it make sense to spend some time in the company of these languages — learning to feel different emotions, rehearsing different passions, experiencing different sacred rituals and learning to see in different ways?

Yes. Yes it does.


Add It Up: 45 Credits Of Prior Learning

Barbara Eckroad recently submitted her PLA Portfolio for the maximum number of credits allowed — 45! For Barbara, all of that life experience has added up — big time!

Congrats Barbara!

Barbara is an Interdisciplinary Studies major with concentrations in English, Literature & Writing, Media Studies, and Religious Studies. The topics she wrote for were:

  • LIT 223: Introduction to Literary Genre
  • WR 367: Writing Workshop I: Poetry
  • WR 368 & 468: Writing Workshop I & II: Short Fiction
  • LIT 329: The Novel
  • WR 312: Writing the Novel
  • SSC 210: Introduction to Hebrew Bible
  • SSC 211: Introduction to Christian Bible
  • SSC 422: Gospels
  • SPP 330: Spiritual Discernment through Writing
  • SPH 357: Existentialism
  • CCM 321: Small Group Communication
  • HST 353: History of the 1960’s
  • SPH 300: Ethics and Social Issues
  • CCM 333: Intercultural Communications

Barbara shares her experiences of the PLA program — including her experience as a distance learner — in this video, in addition to lots of helpful hints for current PLA students. Enjoy!

Vanity Books

I recently wrote a post about a cool new website called Wordnik. I have some words and phrases that I would like to contribute to Wordnik because, well,  it might be neat if other people could find a use for them as well.  So I thought I would start my contributions here. The first phrase I’d like to work on is “Vanity Books.”

Vanity Books: These are books that you have on your bookshelf that you a) have never read, b) have no intent of reading, and c) look good as decorative items, or d) (more commonly) make you look good. I certainly did not make up this phrase, and in fact Wordnik has an entry for it already, but their entry needs some work so I think I might add a few of my ideas to it.

We have numerous vanity books in my house, many of them quite old, and I like to make fun of us for having them. I also like to look at them, but in fact, I rarely read them. My favorite vanity book is titled Famous Authors and the Best Literature of England and America.


The book is old (copyright 1897), it’s 552 pages (the “best literature” in only 552 pages? Priceless!), and it has pretty pictures of authors and houses and fields and such (in color, no less). It contains two volumes  within the single book: Volume I is the best literature from England and Volume II is the best literature from America, of course. It also has quite possibly the world’s longest subtitle:


The lives of English and American authors in story form. Their portraits, their homes and their personal traits. How they worked and what they wrote.

Together with

Choice Selections From Their Writings


The great poets of England and America, famous novelists, distinguished essayists and historians, our humorists, noted journalists and magazine contributors, statesmen in literature, noted women in literature, popular writers for young people, great orators and public lecturers.


Thank god they got those “noted women” in there! Phew – that was close!

If you saw this book on my shelf and thumbed through it, wouldn’t you think I was extremely well-read (in the canon, anyway)?

I like this vanity book for a lot of reasons though, including the fact that it paints an interesting social-historical picture of what “great literature” was all about in the late 1800s.  Also, the book looks well-loved (meaning it’s falling apart) and it smells musty and tabacco-y, like it spent 75 years in a pipe-smoking, leather-patched professor’s office, probably as his vanity book, before being hauled off to an antique store when he died and his kids had no use for his museum-quality artifacts. I also like it because my mom and dad bought it for me as a college graduation present – the perfect present for an English major who likes books and used furniture.

When I took it out today to look at it again, I thought that if I actually were to read it someday, I could learn a few more words and phrases that I could use to feed my Wordnik habit, but I honestly do not have plans to read it anytime soon (I have too many other books waiting in line).  So for now, it will sit quietly but regally next to my second favorite vanity book, an 1884 edition of History of the United States in Words of One Syllable (I kid you not: this is the actual title). Indeed, apparently in 1884 one could learn the entire complex history of a country plagued by colonialism, war, disease, politics, racism, poverty, and sacrifice by reading words of only one syllable. Sounds like an antique version of Twitter, if you ask me.