While searching for jobs over the past couple of months, it has occurred to me how much I’ve learned from this project. Mainly, I learned that it doesn’t matter (that much) what you majored in. What matters is how you use that major. English degrees can be used as gateways to completely different jobs like helicopter cockpit designer, lawyer, FBI agent, and emergency planner. This means that people are also not stuck in one job for the rest of their lives. Most people change jobs a handful of time before ending up in one place. Some of the skills that people learn with an English major are reading and writing, storytelling, synthesizing a large amount of information and reducing it to a summary, effective communication, understanding a deeper message beneath the surface message.
This means that I’ve also learned that English degrees can be commodified to benefit the one percent. There is a place in the capitalist system for what was once a leisure activity. It was an interesting discovery for someone about to join the workforce with an English degree. On the one hand, everything I’ve learned from this project has been a huge relief. I am so glad I don’t have to worry about getting a job because english is “useless” or a “waste of time.” I’m so glad I will be able to change jobs, effectively communicate the skills have I learned at Denison, and that I won’t be stuck doing only those skills forever.
I am not so glad that I now have to sell myself and my labor to a company that will use my knowledge to get more money. I am not so glad to learn nothing is safe from capitalistic exploitation.
While searching for jobs, I discovered that it’s hard to feel passionate about a job or a career path that feeds into a system that doesn’t benefit me. For example, I could get a job in marketing and it would be interesting and a new challenge and for the most part I would enjoy it, but I know (thanks a lot C. Wright Mills) that my labor will be used to make rich people richer. Designing new ad campaigns for Coke or Old Navy wouldn’t help anyone. It wouldn’t address any of the issues I learned about at Denison like wealth inequality or racism. I’m not sure I would feel fulfilled knowing my job as a marketing agent would be essentially tricking people into buying something they don’t need.
I had a similar experience while taking OnBoard classes provided by the Center for Career Exploration and Development about professional communication and the principles of marketing. I realized why this kind of information is generally excluded from Denison’s liberal arts curriculum. It’s surface deep. It is intended to make the reader a more efficient worker bee. I learned how to phrase a proper memo, how to divide populations into market segments, and what phrases to use to convince said segments to buy things. This kind of information is about exploiting other people and making yourself easier to exploit. It would be very easy to trace the connection between this information and how using it makes money for rich people.
So I understand how my major can be used in the working world. I am not afraid that I will graduate and be unable to find a job or pay any bills. The question for me is no longer the annoying uncle at a party question (i.e. “What are you going to do with an English degree?”). My concern for the future is more about how I will be able to do a job I know is not benefitting me, a job that fits into a system that I dislike. I’ve realized that this will be a challenge for the rest of my life. Of course, this isn’t to say that this whole project has only led me to one pessimistic conclusion. I think it’s better to understand how I fit into the larger system, regardless of whether or not I like said system. This way I can search for jobs that better fulfill my desire to improve the world. I could work for a non-profit or find a well-paying job and volunteer in my spare time.
This project has opened my eyes to new ways of thinking about the working world and English as a major. I feel like I understand what the speaker at my 2012 induction ceremony was talking about when he said liberal arts is more than a way of learning but a way of life.