I was responding to Kathryn Vercillo’s article 10 College Classes to Take for a Well-Rounded Education, and I said that everyone should have to take a few English classes. Actually, everyone does have to take English classes, as far as I know. I think that every major, in every kind of institution, has to have at least English 101 and English 102 under their belts. I hope someone will correct me if I’m wrong, but so far I don’t know of any major that doesn’t require English as part of its general education core.
That’s not an arbitrary choice. English classes form many skills in students’ minds, and simply make them better thinkers, communicators, and citizens. Here are some reasons why English classes are so important.
1. English classes require you to read, part 1.
Reading as a physiological activity is good for the brain. Joseph Addison once said, “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” If you look at brain scans, it’s absolutely true; reading makes your brain work. It is an active activity, whereas brain activity is much lower with TV watching, which is a mentally passive activity. Reading makes your brain strong, flexible, and ready for action.
2. English classes require you to read, part 2.
People who read are smarter. I’m not just saying that because I like to read. Readers are better spellers, have a bigger vocabulary, are more creative thinkers, are more analytical, and have a better imagination. There is no major or field of employment where those things won’t be assets.
3. English classes require you to read stuff you might not have chosen for yourself.
We all have our favorite things to read. I like romances and youth fiction, while my husband inhales science fiction and anything written by Dickens. Would I ever have chosen to read Ray Bradbury or F. Scott Fitzgerald on my own? Would he ever have read Jane Austen or John Steinbeck? Probably not, but our English classes required us to do so, and now they are among our favorite authors. They have added richness and value to our lives, and we never would have known that if an English teacher hadn’t required us to read them. And even today, we still make it a point of reading things outside our comfort zones.
4. English classes require you to think critically about content.
First of all, you will have to read things that weren’t written in your lifetime, and people phrased things differently in other eras. You have to really stop and think about what their words say…and stopping and thinking is always a good thing. You have to learn what their cultural assumptions were, so that you can then form an opinion about the characters, plot, theme or style. You have to get in there and figure out what those things even are, so you know whether you like them or not, and why.
5. English classes give you the right to have an opinion.
Let’s say you read Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare, and you think it’s kind of foolish for the lead characters to commit suicide over a simple misunderstanding. Your teacher wants you to write a paper about that, but who are you to criticize Shakespeare? An English class teaches you that nothing that is produced for public consumption is above criticism. If it’s true for Shakespeare, it’s true for popular culture, too. People who write books, songs, movies, or TV shows also have their cultural and philosophical assumptions, and you have a right to have an opinion about those. If you can have problems with truly great writings, you can certainly have problems with Usher, “Glee”, or Transformers 2.
There are a lot more reasons why taking an English class is good for you; after all, there’s the whole writing side of it we haven’t gotten to yet. To be continued in the next post!