Tuesday, November 13, 2007

We Are Vindicated

For pretty much forever, I've been the butt of jokes regarding my choice of college major: English. Few other majors get so many people poking fun. The sad thing is that in some cases, the teasing is warranted; a lot of English majors don't know what they want to be when they grow up or what they'll do with an English degree when they get it (flip burgers?).

Then there are those of us who know precisely what we're going to do with it. In my case, that meant being a writer. To remain practical, I also went into Secondary Education and planned to get a teaching certificate to be a high school English teacher. (I decided in the end to graduate sans certificate, but that's a story for another time.)

But even those English majors who were pre-law or had some other big career plan would get razzed about their major because so many people think that English is somehow easy and has about as much depth as cotton candy—that anyone could do it.

In fact, I had a close family member (who shall remain nameless to protect the innocent . . . or, er, guilty) who was a manager at a company. When hiring employees, she rolled her eyes at anyone trying to apply with a degree as "fluffy" as English (her word, not mine—right in front of me, though).

During my last big semester of college, I had an American Literature class usually taken by seniors. Daring souls who were not English majors could take the class as an Arts & Letters elective, and the semester began with three such students in our class.

Within about a week, two of them had dropped the class because it was too hard.

(Can you hear my maniacal laughter?)

The final non-English student was (and I'm not making this up) pre-med. Not exactly a stupid person, right?

He stuck it out through the entire semester, but boy did he struggle. His returned papers looked like someone had dumped a bottle of red ink all over them. His tests were much the same. As the rest of us would review and compare notes prior to quizzes—discussing American Romanticism and Whitman, maybe—he'd say, "Huh? What does that mean? Where was that? I don't GET it!"

He was used to memorizing answers in science classes. Having to use an analytical side of his brain, find evidence and prove your point with words about killed him as he had to apply literary theories to works we had read. (If I recall, he also said things about the books like, "That chracter died? Where?")

The poor kid just scraped through the class, while I left each day smiling. The class was a challenge (yes, even for the English majors), but I loved every second of it. Yet it was brutally hard for him—and too hard for the other students who didn't even dare try to get through the course.

The pre-med guy is one reason I'll always remember that class; it felt good to see someone gain respect for what I had chosen to study.

Another reason I remember it is because of what happened mid-semester: President Hinckley became the new prophet.

For those of you who don't know, he was . . . dun-dun-dun . . . an ENGLISH MAJOR.

My professor, the beloved Richard Cracroft, had seen and heard plenty of put-downs about his chosen field just like the rest of us had.

I'll always remember what he said the day after President Hinckley was ordained:

"We have an English major as a prophet. We are vindicated!"

Amen, Dr. Cracroft. No one's about to mock that man's English degree.

11 comments:

Kimberly said...

Brilliant post! I do hate that slightly glazed look people get when I tell them I majored in English. I feel vindicated indeed!

Rebecca Talley said...

In high school I decided I wanted to major in English in college because I wanted to write, but ended up majoring in Communications. If I had it to do over again, I'd have majored in English. I have great respect for English majors.

PS Loved your new book. It made me cry and I was impressed with how you resolved the storylines. Definite thumbs up from me!

Karlene said...

I think I had Cracroft for Romantic Lit about, uhmmm, enough years ago. Loved him. Loved the class.

Julie Wright said...

I took Engglish classes so I could do what I loved, Read and write. I hated it when everyone asked if I planned on being a teacher. *As if* I had that kind of patience and goodness in my heart . . .

Avery Gray said...

I double majored in English and Education, so I know how difficult those courses can be. I didn't finish--not because the work was too hard, but due to family issues--and I regret it to this day. If you have a passion for the written word, the work is enjoyable. If not, it's like fighting upstream.

A. Riley said...

I didn't know President Hinckley was an English major. That is cool. I choose English as my major in college. I only went for a year and a half before I dropped out though. College just wasn't for me at that time. Now I would love to go back, but it will have to wait until a calmer time in my life.

I also would get a lot of "are you going to be a teacher?" questions. No way. Never. I respect teachers, but it is not a job for me.

Sarah said...

I also saw my fair share of eye rolling when I told people I was an Elementary Education major.

It's funny though, I never once got that reaction when telling people I was a first grade teacher!

To major in something is one thing, to actually use those skills when you "grow up" is something else entirely.

Dedee said...

Amen from an English Major who never finished, but will some day!

Ajoy said...

I love it!

Luisa Perkins said...

This is fabulous. Love that Prof. Cracroft.

I had NO IDEA that President Hinckley was an English major! That, along with his counsel that nap-taking is an appropriate Sabbath-day activity, serves to strengthen my testimony.

so grateful to be Mormon! said...

hi annette,
it is awesome how you became a writer since you earned your english degree.

and someone up here in alaska who has a B.A. in english from BYU totally made my week, maybe my month! i wrote about what she did in my 15nov blog post. i hope i never forget that moment.

happy chocolate day,
kathleen :)