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English Degrees are Essential – Here’s Why

This year, some English universities have dropped their English degrees. As an English teacher, you can imagine my horror! Isn’t it bad enough that the government doesn’t want to give bursaries to English teachers anymore (see my post on my PGCE for more details on that). Now, they’re attacking the courses in general!

I can’t overstate how bad this is. You might think I’m being biased or over the top. After all, I am an English teacher, right? However, this is no joke. We need to do something about this.

Even if you don’t think that English is for you, we should all support the people who want to go down a different path. We can’t all work in tech. Not all of us have the skills to become graphic designers. For some of us, it’s our calling to write copy, create blogs or be the next best storyteller. So, why are we acting like those careers don’t matter?

There are so many reasons why we need to support English – and the arts in general. So, allow me to explain why these universities are making a huge mistake.

In the Age of the Internet, English Skills Matter More than Ever

We are online all the time. It’s just how things are now. If you have a question, you look it up on Google. If you want to speak to your friend, you might reach out to them on Discord or WhatsApp or iMessage. The internet is in every part of our lives.

With that, we need people who can write the content others will read. That’s exactly what I’m doing right now with my blog! Let’s face it: those of us who have an arts degree are in a much better position to write some amazing stuff – especially if you’ve studied English!

Of course, you don’t have to be an English graduate to write a good blog post. It would be silly for me to imply that. We need builders and engineers and designers to write blog posts so other people can learn about their fields. However, it’s always a good idea to get someone with English knowledge to check it for you.

No one knows the power of words better than an English student. We have to spend our time explaining how a text makes the reader feel and which words get that effect. So, we can then use this information to make sure we give people the right impression online, too!

At some point in our lives, we all say something online that we regret. However, if you know how to use language well, you are less likely to say something that will get you cancelled. You’ll know how to get across what you’re trying to say without hurting others. People with an English degree have that skill in the bag.

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Stories Build Human Connections

If you know anything about marketing, you’ll know that it’s all about storytelling.

Stories show the human side of a company or brand. They let us identify with it and its creators. We understand how it connects to our lives, which is a powerful way to build brand awareness.

There’s a reason why I tell you about my life so much. I could just give you some bland, old tips and then call it a day. However, that doesn’t connect us, does it? You can’t know that I’ve been through the same struggles as any other student. You won’t be able to tell how similar we really are.

That’s not just good for selling a product, either! It’s a great way to connect people who seem like they have nothing in common. It’s a great way to build up our diversity and grow tolerant, loving communities.

You see, there’s this thing called the Parasocial Contact Hypothesis. Basically, some academics got together and realised the power of stories in making our world a more accepting place. They realised that exposing yourself to stories by people from other communities will help you to understand and empathise with them.

It’s like having a friend from a different country or from the LGBTQ+ community. You can realise that you have a great deal in common and respect their differences. It’s much harder to do that if you know nothing about their world. So, we use stories to understand and relate to each other.

People with a degree in English are most likely to analyse and create the stories that connect us.

Studying English Means Studying Manipulation

There’s a whole lot of fake news on the internet right now. So, it is more important than ever to protect yourself from the lies.

Lots of people want to convince you of things that just aren’t true! Whether it’s about flat earth or any of the more dangerous conspiracies, there are people out there who make convincing content. They might believe a load of rubbish, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a great deal of knowledge in other areas!

Many of these people are very convincing and charming. The same can be said about cult leaders or the heads of very dangerous groups. They know how to use their words to make you think they’ve got a very good point. Then, they can slowly draw you in to make you one of them.

Studying English is a great way to protect yourself and others from this. You get in the habit of questioning and analysing the things you read. Why did the writer use this word? How is it supposed to make me feel? Is it successful? Then, you use this information to help you decide if they’re trying to make you so emotional you don’t think properly.

Now, no one is 100% immune to fake news. We can all fall for it from time to time. We are only human, after all!

However, if you study English, you can use the skills you gain to make you more aware of what’s going on. If you’re aware, you can defend yourself against it much better.

If we lose English degree courses, we lose the people who can teach us how to protect ourselves against fake news. Teachers have to learn from somewhere!

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English Degrees Give You Awesome Transferrable Skills

I’ve worked many jobs over my short life. Before I became a teacher, I had written content for companies, proofread important documents, dabbled in HR, and even worked for a famous newspaper! For all of them, my English skills were essential.

There are so many jobs out there that would benefit from the knowledge of someone with an English degree. I don’t just mean teaching, either. A degree in English can show you have skills in:

  • Being critical of the things you read.
  • Research and archiving.
  • Creating great content.
  • Using your understanding of words to give a company a good public image.
  • Writing emails and documents.
  • up with amazing stories for marketing and advertising.

All of these skills are things that companies are begging for.

The thing about English is that it isn’t vocational. That means that it’s not specific to a certain type of job or field. So, since it’s more general, you can adapt it to meet many different purposes.

Sometimes, it’s important to take a vocational subject. For example, if you want to be a nurse, you should do a nursing degree. If you want to be an engineer, you know what path you should take.

Other times, though, it is better to start broad, as it gives you a great deal of flexibility in the jobs you can take. That’s where degrees like English can be a great asset to you.

Cutting Degrees and Funding Makes English More Elitist

Universities are cutting these English degrees in favour of courses that lead to “high skill jobs”. They’re worried that not enough of the graduates are getting jobs that pay them a lot. So, they focus on vocational courses that lead straight to a job.

The problem with that, though, is it makes English and the writing community as a whole more elitist.

What do I mean by that? Well, it’s not the Russell Group universities cutting English courses, is it? If you can get into Oxford, Cambridge, Warwick, Edinburgh, Glasgow or any of those other “top” unis, you’re fine. You can keep your English course.

That cuts down on the number of people who can get on an English degree course massively. It means you’ll need to get super high grades to get in. The competition goes up, so the entry requirements go up, too. The people who love English and got a 5 or 6 at GCSE? Well, they’ll be the first ones to miss out.

I can’t tell you how many kids out there get tutored to go to the Russell Group universities. I should know: I am both a tutor and a Russell Group graduate. Then, there are the young people who stress because they don’t think they can meet the high entry requirements.

Philip Pullman made this issue very clear in a Guardian article recently. If you make it harder to get into an English course, you single out the working-class students. Suddenly, the students who have the best training to write the next generation of stories skew more on the privileged side. So, they tell stories from the perspective of privilege.

Basically, by ignoring the importance of English degrees, we’re killing our own media diversity.

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Treating English Like a “Low-Value” Degree Choice Ruins Self-Esteem

For some students out there, English feels like the only thing they’re good at.

I’ve met quite a few kids like this. They love to write a poem or come up with a new story. Reading and analysing texts is a breeze. They know what they’re doing if you ask them to write a good speech or email. They’re in the zone. When it comes to other subjects, though, they feel very lost.

Every subject has some students like this. They cling on to the fact that they can bank on a good GCSE or A-level grade in that one subject. Heck, who knows? Maybe, if they work hard enough, they can get a place at a uni doing that subject, too! What good motivation to study hard in other areas?!

The students I know felt comforted by the fact that English is seen as a respectable subject. Sure, maths was a real struggle for them. However, they just need to get through the next few years and then they can spend their whole time studying English!

After all, it is an academic subject, so they often don’t feel stupid! Emma Watson and Stephen Fry have English degrees, and they’re very smart people! In fact, English was the 6th most popular degree subject among MPs in 2019!

Now, universities are acting like English is a “low value” degree choice. How is that supposed to motivate students who aren’t good at STEM? What does it say to people who aren’t interested in going into IT? That they’re of lower value?

English is a very important subject. This idea of it being “low value” isn’t true at all. So, let’s stop acting like it is.

STEM Isn’t the Only Useful Career Path

So, let’s think about the students who just aren’t cut out for the STEM path. Is it responsible of us to push them down that route? Absolutely not! That’s for two reasons.

The first reason is simple. There aren’t enough jobs to go around at the moment – not even in a STEM field. Even if you train up for a great career like software engineering, there is a great deal of competition. If you’re not a strong candidate, you’re going to find it hard to get a career in that area.

Then there’s the emotional reason. I was in HR for a year and absolutely hated it. It wasn’t a career for me at all. So, believe me when I say that doing a job you hate is absolutely soul-crushing. No one wants to hate every single day at work! It makes you bitter and depressed.

Things are bad enough if you fit in one of those camps. You might be great at the subject but loathe it. Or, you might not be very good at it but have the passion you need. If that’s true for you, you could maybe make a career work. It will be hard, but not impossible.

However, if you’re not great at the subject and you hate it, you don’t want to throw your life away on it.

Then what? Are these students doomed? No.

There are so many rewarding careers that need creative people. Companies need English and other arts graduates for creative reasons. After all, the creative and the tech person can work very well together!

STEM is an amazing career path to go down. However, it isn’t the only good one out there. If it isn’t for you, there are plenty of other amazing options!

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We Need to Stop Treating People Like Robots

You might have heard some people online say we live in a capitalist hellscape. I’m a teacher, so I won’t comment on whether they’re right or wrong. I don’t think it’s my business to try to influence politics here.

I will say one thing, though: capitalism affects how we view people and education.

At the moment, we act like schools are factories that make workers. We treat education like its only purpose is to pump out people who have the skills they need to work in a job. They don’t need anything else, right? Wrong!

Education also exists to help people think freely. It helps them to create things they enjoy, engage with the world around them and participate in politics.

Heck, the skills they pick up in school might not be useful for the job they are at right now, but they might use these other subjects to start a business or write a book. They can engage with the world on their own terms.

I might not need to read music to be a good English teacher, but it does help me in other ways. It helps to make friends, relate to students and enjoy my life. I even took up singing and found out I’m not half bad at it!

When you have a rich education, your life can take twists and turns you never expected. English is part of that.

Let’s stop treating people like robots. We don’t need to be trained for a single purpose. Creativity is important, too.

Creative Jobs Can’t be Automated

Loads of jobs out there are in danger of being automated in the near future.

We’ve already seen how self-service checkouts have changed the way we shop. We need way fewer cashiers now! The same is true of robots in factories. They’re taking over the old human jobs. I am kinda scared of what the future brings for workers in jobs like that.

As more and more jobs are automated, we need to find ones that can’t be done by robots. Those are the ones that will survive.

Of course, we have the people who make the designs and code for new tech. Their jobs are pretty secure. I don’t think doctors or nurses will be run out of their workplaces by Bymax any time soon, either. They’re safe.

You can count on the creative jobs, too. Have you ever seen AI try to write a story? Or make a piece of artwork? It’s trash!

Now, don’t get me wrong. AI can do some pretty cool creative stuff. I’ve listened to a few AI-generated pieces of music. They’re not bad. The stories sometimes make sense, too!

What the AI is missing, though, is the feeling behind those artistic pieces. At the moment, robots can’t relate to us. They can’t capture emotions just yet. They just use collocations to make a text that makes sense. The basic music rules help to make a piece sound good. It’s hollow, though.

We read stories to escape the world or to learn about it. Writers comment on the world around them and make us question our idea of normal. Right now, only sentient creatures can do that. So, we creatives are safe.

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People Will Lose Out on Important English Skills

As an English teacher, the idea of people losing English skills scares me. I’ve seen how people write emails lately. I personally cringe every time I see someone use the wrong “your”. Also, when someone gets triggered by other people’s interpretations of a text, I die a little inside.

English skills are so important. It’s more than just being able to read and write. It’s about being able to see the propaganda around you for what it is. So much of what we do online today would be improved if everyone had access to better English education.

When you do an English degree, you learn so many important things. You think about children’s literature and how we tell stories to young people. We take the time to think about how people use language to express themselves and protest injustice. Plus, we also learn how and why language changes over time.

We all use language every single day. That’s why it is so important to understand it.

You might not personally want to do an English degree, and that’s fine! However, it is a benefit to everyone that we have scholars out there writing about the English language. It helps us all to learn and grow.

That’s why it’s such a huge issue that universities are dropping English courses. We need to preserve it at all costs.

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