Don’t diss English lit

I happened to be sitting with several women the other day at a b-day party who all have science-heavy educations. They were a very nice sort, but not my usual crowd, who has learned to put up (very graciously) with my curiosity about every subject under the sun (blame it on my journalism education) and my overwhelming passion for books, both old and new.

Now, I love science. I consume it, learn it, for any topic I want to write about. I worked several years for the CDC in PR, and my agency’s tasks fascinated me. I totally see how critical the pursuit of science is.

However, this more science-minded group started to discuss language arts education, and said they didn’t really understand the point of looking deeper into classic literature. Why did English teachers ask them to go beyond face value, basically?

I thought about holding my tongue (well, not really), and then said something like: “English language arts is as important to society as science. We have to learn to think more critically, ask questions, and express ourselves in ways that make people listen. Otherwise, it takes the humanity out of our lives.”

Now, I wasn’t sure how to read the looks I got, but I am rather convinced that my argument wasn’t bought hook, line, and sinker. In fact, as my husband urges my children toward scientific pursuits (I have backed this up by signing them up for robot camp), and many of the college freshmen I work with turn up their noses at mass communication careers (“I want to actually make money”), I find that I’m in the position of many who teach humanities, arts, and social sciences.

I’m trying to convince you that these are just as important as science. But I feel like I’m trying to tell you that you need water to live.

And trying to convince others that stories are important can be even more challenging. But consider what motivates you? What makes you think? What makes you want to change the world?

Stories do that. Whether it’s a movie or a book, or fiction or nonfiction, stories are what motivate us to be better. It’s how we get people to join causes. It’s how we get people to treat one another better. It’s how we help people heal.

But if you can’t come to realize this on your own, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to convince you. The best thing I can do is say, “Pick up a book that interests you. Pick up a book that sounds contrary to what you believe. Pick up a book that many people are reading, and try to find out why it’s popular. Pick up a book and think up your own story…ask yourself why you’d write it.”

And finally, to the person who says, “I don’t read”? Well, I’d say they are wasting something that many generations fought to give them.

Reading is power.

So, there you go.

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