From the Students' Perspective
The question pops up whenever new students at Central Washington University receive a course list: Why take English? The simple answer is that everyone benefits from sharpened communication skills. Success in the job market depends on professionalism, including fluency in the many forms of speech and writing. Therefore, we need to learn to present our thoughts in an organized manner and continually practice the decision making, problem solving, and sequencing that result in readable documents. Yet reasons for writing may be personal as well as professional; our content may be drawn from experience or applied to the work we do each day. In any case, intensive study of language and literature allows us to understand human problems more perceptively and to express ourselves in ways others may appreciate. When done effectively, writing can result in personal satisfaction and successful dealings with others. English courses lay the groundwork.
Recently, an author spoke to us about childhood events that blossomed into a desire to share his experiences with children around the world. Writing provided the medium for sharing, but he originally lacked the skills necessary to use that medium. Driven by his desire to communicate, he did eventually learn to write well. What amazed those of us who listened to him (many of whom read his books as children) was the effort he described to get his words on paper. His struggles showed that, while writing may come easily for some, for many more it involves time and application. The writer's rewards may be professional, or they may be ineffable. They may simply allow us to connect.
As for literary studies, we find that strong poetry, fiction, and drama allow us to interpret unpredictable events and respond to unfamiliar situations in our own times and places. Characters we meet in literature prepare us to judge character in those we meet on the street. The world is rapidly changing in culture and economics, in the challenges and possibilities with which it confronts us. Literature helps us to reckon with the diversity we encounter. Studied with an open mind, it teaches suppleness, tolerance, and courage.
As former English majors at Central Washington University, we have learned that our ability to analyze and articulate language is of value in a wide range of professions. Many Central graduates teach. Some work in publishing in computer documentation, video game design, or web page production. Other graduates are speechwriters, political aides, or technical writers working in government or business. Central graduates also work as journalists, editors, freelance writers, and--in one case--as the host of a radio show. Others write creatively in the genres of poetry, novels, science fiction, and children's books. Still others work or teach overseas in Japan, Brazil, Paraguay, and Czechoslovakia. Central graduates have gone on to become lawyers, professors, and stockbrokers. (Meanwhile, some of our current majors have given up other professions to begin second careers by studying English.) All have discovered the pleasure and the value of the English major.
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