, 29 tweets, 8 min read Read on Twitter
1) This article is so misleading that I'm gonna go through it piece by piece. I will try to do so without lurching into mega-thread territory. I do not accept propaganda written to damage the English major, particularly when done so to serve one's partisan commitments. Thread:
2) 2) It's true that tuition payers are likely to be alarmed at what they're getting for their money from an English major. This is a reasonable concern. So it's worth answering with data. And not just throwing numbers against the wall, but putting them in context.
3) Let's start with the Bankrate study cited. English is #132 of 162. Sounds bad. And a median salary of $47,800. Sounds especially bad when you contrast it with 'say' (as if a random and not a rhetorical choice) electrical engineering.
4) But let's see how the English numbers compare in the Bankrate study with some other majors. In terms of salary, English ($47,800) is pretty close to clinical psych ($43,100), plant science ($50,000), neuroscience ($50,000), animal sciences ($47,500), etc.
5) In terms of unemployment rate: English (3.4); clinical psych (1.2); plant science (3.5); neuroscience (1.9); animal sciences (1.5); IR (3.9); geology (3.8); microbiology (3.3); biomedical engineering (3.4, i.e. same as English).
6) The point here is that while there are indeed significant variations in ROI among majors, it's far from clear why one would *single out* the English major as an object of scorn. For many STEM majors, as for English, the earnings and employment rates are pretty tightly grouped.
7) Which is to say, more specifically, that putting English up against one of the highest earning majors (electrical engineering) was not meant to give you an honest picture of where English stands among majors. But hell, let's look at more data. As it happens I have some on hand
8) Here are some comparative unemployment rates by major from NCES (2017). Note that English does *better* than business, electrical engineering, and the aggregate STEM category, and is not far off from psych and mechanical engineering.
9) Here are the underemployment figures by major at graduate and 5 years out, an important metric for people who, you know, work beyond the first couple of years after college. Notice that English majors are competitive in this category with the soc and phys sci aggregates.
10) Here are some media salary figures to add to Bankrate study, a touch more favorable for English, though from 2015.
(Sorry, I made a mistake in this tweet. Better than econ, math, psych, etc. Actually more impressive for English I think.)
11) Once again, the point is *not* that it doesn't matter what you major in, but that English is far from a poor choice of major, even strictly for financial and employment reasons. If you say otherwise, you'd have to say the same about neuroscience or botany or psychology, etc.
12) So why does this WSJ article single out English? It's obviously not the employment data, even though McGurn clearly wants you to think that he's just dispassionately rattling off the facts. It's because this is a well-worn political narrative.
13) It doesn't surprise me that people sometimes regret majoring in English. McGurn is participating in that very problem in writing this article. He even notes a few lines down that English majors aren't getting much respect these days. Well, why? Again, it's not the numbers.
14) What is it? Well, the article simply tells on itself: 'Humanities students have it even worse, because the watering down of the curriculum has diminished the value of degrees such as English or history.'
15) Sorry for being tedious, but I can't let this slide. I thought we were talking about English? Why now are we talking about 'the humanities' & 'history.' Back to that Bankrate study: history ranks #81 ($52,200 / 3.0% unemployment rate), higher than neuro and enviro sci.
16) This is tell. The problem is manifestly not that history majors (or English majors) are *particularly* bad economic choices (putting aside that obviously people choose careers for a mix of financial and preferential and aptitude reasons). By the very data the article cites!
17) This article is in other words just mediocre culture-wars stuff misleadingly presented as if based in numerical evidence. Viz.,
18) We see, for example, the old saw that no one studies Shakespeare anymore. 48/52 top schools allow students to graduate without taking a Shakespeare course! Sounds bad! But how many of those actually have a pre-1800 requirement (Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer, etc.)?
19) I know for a fact that my department has that, I know Amherst has it, I know Williams has it, I know Middlebury has it, I know Bowdoin has it, which means I know the 48/52 stat doesn't address pre-1800 requirement, which means I know it's misleading.
20) (Hey, if you wanna have a discussion with me about whether the Preferred Dead White Guy *must* be Shakespeare and *only* Shakespeare, we can do that, but I suspect the point is meant to be that we don't teach the old canonical 'greats' anymore, and that's patently false.
21) By the way, this is an empirical question. According to the Open Syllabus project, Shakespeare is the most assigned author across subjects. Plato #2; Aristotle #4; Chaucer #11.
22) What about Harry Potter, which McGurn's source implies is read instead of Chaucer? JK Rowling syllabus appearances in the database: 1804; Chaucer appearances: 12,201.
23) Notice that #3, as @S_Insley_H points out, is Diana Hacker, author of the most popular writing instruction / style guide (to the claim that we don't teach students how to write anymore).
@S_Insley_H 24) Before I go, one more thing. Predictably, much of McGurn's argument--such as it is--leans on--and I hate that I have to say this--a motte and bailey fallacy regarding the concepts of 'STEM' and 'humanities.' ...
@S_Insley_H 25) In brief, this means citing the strongest engineering and physics job figures as a stand-in for 'STEM' and 'STEM' strength, while ignoring the close proximity of less 'applied' sciences to English with respect to salaries and unemployment rates.
@S_Insley_H 26) The easy to defend engineering job # s become a stand-in for 'STEM' strength, but a careful look at 'STEM' job figures requires retreat and equivocation. Likewise 'English' and 'humanities' get mixed together when it allows for a negative generalization from one to the other.
@S_Insley_H 27) My fuller explanation of this phenomenon here: insidehighered.com/views/2019/09/…
@S_Insley_H 28) Please accept my apologies for the lengthiness of this thread. And please do not buy McGurn's propagandistic claims. And please share this with your students and their parents. Thank you. /end
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