February 22, 2014 at 8:37 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , )

First things first: You will NOT understand anything I’m about to write until you read this.

Go ahead, take a read. It’s not that long and is quite well written. This is also a response to that essay, so if you want to continue going without reading it I guess you totally can, but it might not make as much sense. On the other hand, you might be an English major. I digress.

My good friend Daniel alerted me to the presence of this essay, which I read on the bus home from work the other day and immediately thought to myself, “I have all kinds of thoughts about this essay!” but no time at all in which to collect my thoughts. I also have a blog post I want to write about buses, but that’s for another time. I continue to digress.

I  will attempt to address each point in the author makes as they appear in the essay, but as anyone who has talked with me or read this blog knows, my thoughts a-wander. Here we go!

For the most part, I think there is an overall arc of truthiness surrounding the main thrust of “Secret Architecture’s” argument (hereafter referred to as SA). I think that it is also important to clarify in the beginning of the essay that SA is not talking about EVERY English major. That, for me, makes it a much stronger argument, because to say these things are mostly true might not be wrong, while to say they are airtight would definitely be inaccurate.

1. They Don’t Know English

Full disclosure: I’m not an English major. I am one of those people who is “fairly good at intuitively (but not analytically) understanding the current version of English approved by educational institutions…” although I have no feelings on its standing on my superiority/inferiority to others. I tend to agree that I think people get too locked into what they think English “should” be, instead of appreciating for the varied, nuanced language that it is. I think that a basic grasp of grammar is important, because your/you’re is a fairly important nuance, for instance. 

I had an English teacher tell me a long time ago that you had to know all the rules first so that you could go and break them later, and that has really stuck with me. Good writing is good writing – if you can express your thoughts in a clear and relatable manner, you’re doing something right. We have some conventions that can help you with it, but sometimes you have to go your own way. Words are just symbols for thoughts, and if you’re enough of a wordsmith that you can arrange the symbols in a way that others understand you, who am I to say no?

I can’t say the author is wrong about the racist/classist aspect to proper grammar, though. We use distinctions in language as a way to hold people down or raise them up. Content matters.  


2. Even Though They Don’t Speak English, They Only Speak English

As far as the music goes, that (to my mind) is a false analogy. Music is a language, so is math, the saxophone might be a certain style or genre of writing (if you insist on carrying along the metaphor). Here is where I will steal from my good friend Emily, who is undoubtedly a better writer than I: “I apologize that there are not enough years in the world for me to read every single book I will ever want to.” I am in no way advocating for mono-linguism, on the contrary, learning Spanish taught me FAR more about English than anything else, simply because I couldn’t intuit it (something I have done in far too many things in my life, writing and music included). 

3. They Live In And Perpetuate A Culture Of Fraud

You won’t find a ton of argument with me on this point, but I think the same can be said of many college majors. For some reason there are a lot of people who want to skate through and get a piece of paper rather than taking of the advantage to learn lots of things. I know several friends who are English majors and have at various points in their life professed to not having read many of the books that they were assigned. I myself did not finish every book in every English class I took.

“Skillful manipulation of language and skillful diguisal of ignorance are what other disciplines would call sophistry.”

Sophistry: the use of reasoning or arguments that sound correct but are actually false

Thinking about what I got my degree in…

Thinking about how I had to look up the word sophistry, and when I did I was like, “sounds about right.”

Thinking about how people will say, political science IS a science! …sort of

Thinking about House of Cards…god Kevin Spacey is amazing. Why am I writing this instead of watching that?

In any case, sophistry is my trade to some extent. I have to excel at sniffing it out, and have to be aware when I can bend things to my advantage. At least that’s how it was when I was working in politics. That’s probably why I find myself in the nonprofit sector – I have no problem trying to put the shine on something, but I am not really the kind who enjoys outright manipulation or disingenuity. 

4. They Don’t Like Books

If there are in fact people as SA has described out in the world then they are worthy of our derision. I haven’t met many of them, and certainly none of the English Majors I’ve been around have expressed thoughts like that. 

5. You’re An Idiot

In the comments on the link that Daniel posted most of my friends had exceptional musings on the subject of college as an institution, and so I will try for as much originality as possible here, though I cannot help but be colored by their insights.

  • College as an institution has many flaws, but at the end of the day it is a tool. Like many other tools, you get out of it what you put into it. If you work hard at learning new things, you will find that your thoughts are clearer, your reasoning more sound, and your knowledge base broadened. If you seek out friends, clubs, and activities that challenge and inspire you, you will grow and be inspired. If you network well and think critically about the challenge ahead, you will come out a better person. If you do none of those thinks and spend 4 (or 5, or 6) years drinking your face off and skating by with the bare minimum, you might have some troubles. If you try to use a corkscrew to put together a mailbox, you will similarly run into some struggles with your tool selection.
  • The issue with the above statement is that you don’t always know that’s what you’re supposed to do at college. I also think the focus on academics can be a bit misleading – it’s hard to experience personal growth in your room surrounded by books. You have to challenge yourself in a myriad of ways, and that’s scary. I think one thing that colleges can be better about is helping students understand that they could have learned the things they are learning if they felt like buying enough books and spending time doing the research on their own. Part of the point of a liberal arts degree is growth of the self. 


Education may indeed be at an impasse, I’m not sure. The current levels of growth and student debt are almost certainly unsustainable, but where the system is going is not something that I could tell you. I do know that society itself requires some big changes. I can’t tell you how excited I am to be doing a year of AmeriCorps VISTA service, because I am right at the ground level of where the issues are. I’m learning about myself and the issues people are facing in the world in a much more real sense every day on the bus than I did reading textbooks. Without developing those critical thinking processes, though, would I be able to be experiencing the growth that I am now? Perhaps, but I doubt to the same degree. 


The title of this post, “Destination,” is the title of a track of Nickel Creek’s newest album. The song is fantastic. We all have to make our own destinations. We have to pick a direction and go in it, even though most of the time we can’t see exactly where we’re headed. It’s kind of scary. Take a deep breath and jump, and if English is your “major,” for fuck’s sake don’t forget that you’re also majoring in life. 


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