I'm Gen-Z (somewhat, graduated 2019) and majored in both Statistics and English so this is a fun piece for me.

I truly believe in the power and importance of the English major, but I'm employed because of my Statistics major, and it's nice to be employed. Statistics classes aren't directly relevant to what I do at work, but it proved that I knew how to move numbers around a spreadsheet. The English major is relevant to what I do on Substack, but I do this for fun not for employment. I view my English degree as a nice hobby I got to indulge for a few years in college with really talented professors who taught me a lot about art. Many people who don't do an English major see it the same way.

I also don't think there's anything wrong with that though. Art doesn't provide the same strict utility as the cold numbers can, and that's fine. What's sad and scary is that the standards of the English major decline alongside its relevance.

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Apr 3, 2023·edited Apr 4, 2023Liked by Blaise Lucey

I’m gen z (19 and in college) and I think the cause and effect here are a little backwards. We don’t see English as formulaic essay-production where you connect old texts to Current Politics and our Personal Issues just cause. That’s how we (or at least I) are taught. Essay writing in high school (and as I hear from a friend, community college) is not at all “impossible to quantify”! Write this many words, in this format, on this question. Hook, intro. Body, body, body. In conclusion. Not all of my English teachers wanted that, but those others were often perfectly happy with progressive politics in a certain tone. Getting good grades and “very insightful!” responses to vague nonsense lowers one’s opinion of the whole game for attentive students. Generative AI (which I wrote my English paper final on months before people started going crazy on twitter and really disturbed by English prof) writes at about the level a lot of us write at, or better. I’ve also taken playwriting classes, which were very different than analysis-type classes but I violently hated and don’t remember them well, so I can’t talk much about fiction writing.

I also think the stats increase is more response than effect wrt the relentless graphs. We’ve grown up with numbers and averages and graph bombardment, and need to know how to read them. They are stories, with viewpoints and messages and omissions, and understanding that is crucial to anyone trying to engage with modern life.

It’s also true Youths can’t/don’t read much longform, dense text. I do, but I’ve been weird for that all my life. On the other hand, we’re processing information at incredible rates, all the time (email, text, ads, headlines, podcasts, yt videos, twitter, insta, etc.). There just isn’t much space left for Brothers Karamazov.

[edit: minor grammar fixes]

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Wow great piece!

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I love the idea that "it is what you create that creates your life" and that "what we create has a value that needs no validation." There is no more magnificently transformative act than writing. Nor are there any better escape portals from this world into others. It's just too bad most of us struggle to make a living at it!

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A thoughtful piece, and great to see so many thoughtful rejoinders in the Comments thread as well 👏🤝

My take is that English teachers - and, by extension, professors - are generally piss-poor communicators of their work's value. There are loads of skills, hard and soft, honed through any decent English major: the rhetoric and discourse of a seminar; the rigor and research skills of a thesis; the parsing of syntaxes and meanings and language of a literary analysis. Even in the dirty, dismal sciences of data and algorithms, there still exists the need for beauty in language and thought and expression; any sensible investment firm does both quantitative and qualitative studies of companies, for example. And AI, for all its aptitude, is still dependent on what we feed it. It'll only know the world that is and was - never what could or should be.

I also think that ASU does a sensible thing - at least in Heller's account - and designs courses with students' needs and interests and curiosities in mind. I don't think doing so abdicates its professors of their pedagogical role and dilutes their expertise: to the contrary, it shows that they're caring about their students' intellectual, moral life, and in the present tense. And a sense of mutual care between teacher and student is what really drives deep engagement and thought, above and beyond any well-designed curriculum (which is of course necessary too).

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I'm a Gen-Z college sophomore. In late elementary, middle school, and early high school, I read and wrote for fun all the time, even a novel in fourth grade, and got a short story published (read "Insight: Book 9 of the Odyssey from the Cyclops' Perspective" on TeenInk - that's me lol) , but by my sophomore year of high school, I stopped writing except to do assignments.

I honestly don't know why. I remember at the time being confused as well and thinking that Instagram, which I got when I was 13, slowly seeped my creativity away. Maybe the addiction of short-term pleasure over the marathon that writing is got me. Maybe writing just didn't seem relevant or like a career. As a kid, my inspirations were Wendy Mass and Meg Cabot because elementary school teachers emphasize reading. However, it was hard to find relatable books like that as a high school student, and authors weren't seen as inspirations, leading for there to be no one in literature for me to want to emulate. Also, at my pretty wealthy Massachusetts public school, my parents were outliers in encouraging me to write: most parents encouraged their children to do anything but the arts. This hustle culture became ingrained in students as well. School math and science became harder, so, since I actually had to study in high school, there was less time for writing.

Writing as a career stopped being respected or relevant. Having to do well in other hard subjects and keep up with social media became more important. I wish I kept writing, but maybe I will switch to an English major, though I don't know since people respect science more--we all just want to fit in.

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I actually just wrote about this issue on my Substack as well (https://open.substack.com/pub/jhmueller/p/oh-the-humanities?r=18qza2&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web).

I'm a Zoomer. It's not our fault. Aside from the ludicrous cost of higher education, the university system became an industry. Liberal arts knowledge is marketed as a way to gain monetary rewards or well-being rather than marketed as good in itself. No amount of this consequentialism can possibly hope to make someone want to study philosophy or English. We decided to put a price tag on truth—and this is the cost.

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