Students from English 10 read the Shakepearean play, Macbeth.
Students from English 10 read the Shakepearean play, Macbeth.

Number of English majors on steady decline

With the number of students deciding on humanities majors experiencing a sharp decline, is it still necessary for students to take four years of English?

The English major is losing popularity—and fast. Throughout the past decade, the number of students majoring in humanities courses has greatly decreased. While the humanities majors may be losing popularity in colleges across the country, the school emphasizes the subject’s importance with four required years of English in Upper School, which is unlikely to change anytime soon.
For some, their passion comes at a young age, and Cristian Pereira ’21 followed his to Yale, where he is currently studying English.
“I would say I always preferred writing and reading over math,” Pereira said. “Writing always came a lot more naturally to me.”
Pereira was one of few students who knew exactly what they wanted to study in college. Although he decided to pursue English early on, his high school experience with English helped to further promote his passion for the language.
“In high school, my English classes were my favorite,” Pereira said. “A really transformative class for me with English was Ms. Schwartz’s AP English Literature class.”
While in high school, students might be expected to read a book and create a standard five-paragraph essay with textual evidence to support their thesis. In college, however, literary analysis goes far more in-depth, with students having to analyze books to its roots: the grammar, sentence structure and how it changes a book’s tone or meaning.
“It’s a really difficult skill to learn because you have to analyze each word and each punctuation mark,” Pereira said. “For example, why is this comma here, and how does this comma affect what is being communicated in this sentence? And how does that sentence affect what’s being communicated in the paragraph? How does that connect to my overall argument?”
Although Pereira is passionate about English, he interns at Bank of America, working in their investment banking division. While banking may not seem like the traditional route for an English major, Pereira believes that his liberal arts education can be a huge asset for finance, especially in critical thinking.
“I really subscribe to the liberal arts idea of focusing your education on teaching yourself how to think instead of teaching yourself how to do,” Pereira said.
However, there is another critical reason why Pereira chose to major in English: its intrinsic principle to teach students how to think. Pereira’s best advice for high school students is to “make sure you build that foundation for yourself by enriching your critical thinking skills” through reading or history to keep your thinking skills sharp, as they are incredibly invaluable.
“Even if you’re not studying English, choose something in your life that enriches your ability to think because it’s going to be extremely valuable for the rest of your life,” Pereira said. “Eventually, you may lose that job, or you get put in a position of leadership, and now you have to make a lot of decisions for yourself, and you’re no longer just someone following instructions. I think that’s what I really value about the English major.”
Although there is a great emphasis on English at St. Mark’s, very few seniors choose to major in English at their future colleges. Humanities instructor Dr. Martin Stegemoeller believes that the politicization of English departments is partly to blame.
“English departments are just hyper-politicized now,” Stegemoeller said. “It used to be about reading and learning to love literature. Now, I can see why kids don’t even want to do it.”
And even though it seems to be negatively affecting the English major, he doesn’t know if the issue will go away anytime soon, though he has seen some progress.
“It may just be a downward spiral until a lot of English departments just have to shut down,” Stegemoeller said. “There are places, though, like a new university in Austin that are trying to promote a more neutral environment in their schools.”
However, Stegemoeller still believes that going into an English major is not necessary to enjoy the substance of the language.
“Of course, people can always read and enjoy literature on their own,” Stegemoeller said. “I think more and more people are doing that now instead of doing it in college.”
Although the English major is becoming less popular, the ability to think for oneself that stems from a liberal arts education is vital to the future of the country.
“I think at some point that the ability to think is actually going to become more valuable than the ability to do a job skillfully,” Pereira said. “There are just going to be so many resources that can do the skills for you, so then your value is just going to be in your ability to make decisions. I think that in ten years or so, there’s going to be a huge revival of the liberal arts because it’s going to become even more valuable than it is today.”

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