Sunday, March 3, 2013

The usefulness of a degree in English Lit..

       When I got home tonight my parents were watching EWTN (the Global Catholic Television Network) and was immediately called into the television room.  They were broadcasting one of their half hour weekly segments of the program called "Catholicism On Campus" which is hosted by Msgr. Stuart Swetland who explores the teachings of the Catholic Church with the students of Mount St. Mary's University, Maryland USA. Tonight the theme of the discussion was "Catholic Liberal Arts: Why They Still Matter" and he had Robert Prescott, PhD with him to talk about his book Why to major in English if You're Not Going to Teach.  

       No wonder my mother was so anxious for me to hear the discussion- Many people in my family, mom included, feel that my degree in English is "useless towards my future". So I sat down with mom and dad and lo and behold, Dr. Prescott dispelled all the doubt surrounding my "worthless" degree choice... 

       In his book, Prescott discusses the importance of English Lit with regards to one's own secular vocation (i.e career choice) and in tonight's discussion he was asked to describe the skills that are garnered through the study of English by one of the students present. He provided the following answer,
(bear with me here, I was typing it out onto my rapidly dying cell phone's notepad app):
-Empathy; excellence in writing is that your message is tailored to the needs of your audience, rather than the correctness of your grammar. Your writing should be a gift to others.
-Analytical skills: when you study and analyse the written word you are then able to look at even the most complex issues from all points of view and see all sides to the story.
-Humble attitude: You learn that "I am NOT the last word" and to welcome the back and forth that thorough discussion allows.  When you write or discuss what you are reading, you open yourself up to criticism and learn to welcome it, saying "please tell me where i am wrong, and take me forward".
-Interpersonal communication skills: While you can be trained and taught proper writing structure, grammar skills etc, no one can truly train you to write. No more than they can train you how to Think. Studying English Literature, in any and all forms, can and will help you gain the skill sets necessary to be a functioning, thinking member of all areas of society.

       Another question posed to Prof. Prescott during the segment was the following: How do you see your work sanctifying the world?" His answer definitely helped me feel better about my current situation- searching for my secular vocation (a.k.a finding a job/career). Prescott answered that in English, its not the vocational training but the skills to immediate and peace-make in the world that you gain.  You gain the skills to lead a fractious people to consensus- i.e High Leadership Skills. You can put yourself into the shoes of those around you, and incline yourself to seek the truth with these others; It is communal- Communication...English cannot be done alone. Respect and affection with and for others and their thoughts and views is greatly needed. 

       Prescott was further asked How important is the study of poetry? and he gave his admittedly biased opinion that Poetry is rather necessary when one wants to understand the world and those around themselves who are in it.  He  proposed that there is not one person walking on earth who does not have in their heart and mind a favourite lyric, or hymn or song- the words in lyric touch everyone deeply. Poetry is words in lyric that touch each person everywhere in life, speaking to the deepest recesses of our person, connecting us as loving human beings.  Poetry is dense but provides the reader/listener with the "trues" of heart, mind and spirit and help us better engage with one another.  
       Dr. Robert Prescott, along with Msgr. Swetland, further urged their student audience to think of the psalms that are written in "the word" (a.k.a the Bible) and to consider that even poetry was at the center of Jesus' life while he walked on earth. The psalms are the words in lyric that teach us the greatest messages about -not only- God's love for us, but how we should love one another.  Therefore, words-literature-English, also have their place of importance within spiritual life and religious vocation.

The segment concluded with Monseigneur and the Professor reiterating to the students (and those of us watching at home) that English Lit will definitely help you in your secular vocations because while you can be taught to "do", you cannot be trained to think.

I'm so happy I caught this 30 minute program and I urge any one interested in  learning more about this subject to check out both Robert Prescott's book “Why to Major in English If You’re Not Going to Teach” Kendall Hunt Publishing Company, 2010. and Msgr. Stuart Swetland's series on the Global Catholic Television Network's site at:
Tonight's episode was: 

You can find out more about Dr. Robert Prescott and his book at:

I know i'm certainly going to be finding a copy of Prescott's book as soon as possible to help me further understand the worth of my English degree towards the ever-on-going search for my secular vocation.

If you wanna talk about this some more or would like more info on anything from this post, drop a comment or throw an email my way :)



Antonella Greco said...


Margo said...

Hello from a fellow Catholic English major! I'm so glad you got to see this episode. I am beyond blessed to be one of Dr. Prescott's students at Bradley. I really wish I had could have seen this episode, of course, Dr. Prescott told me about it *after* it aired.
He actually assigns that book for the Senior Project class that all English majors take in the fall. You should definitely buy it if you can find it online. If you're unable to find a copy online, feel free to send me an email ( and I can lend you my copy for you to read over :)

Margo said...

Here's a video of the episode if you ever want to rewatch it or share it with other cool English majors!