Neuendorf: General English classes should be major specific


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Rear view of a female lecturer standing in front of a classroom

Zachary Neuendorf

I was fortunate enough to take an English 250 class that was specialized to my major, journalism and mass communications. I was able to do this because I was a member of my program’s learning community.

If you are not a part of a learning community, chances are that you took your introductory English classes with a hodgepodge of other students with varying majors. In your classroom, you could have an English major, an aerospace engineering major, a graphic design major and a business major all learning from the same curriculum.

Let us assume that the teacher does a fantastic job and the students improve in rhetorical analysis, essay composition and other forms of writing. Even if this is true, the students are being deprived of an opportunity to have their English education interwoven with their major. Every major — no matter how scientific, math-esque or artsy — can benefit from the analysis that English provides. That analysis could and should have a focus on the studies each student is pursuing.

Current students in English 150 and 250 agree that their English classes are not advancing them to its full potential.

As of now, many students feel as if their general education English classes are a waste of time, likening it to the days of high school or — in some extreme cases — middle school. A lot of focus in the general courses is spent on basic structure and basic understanding of such concepts as ethos, pathos, logos and rhetoric. Many times, the pieces of text that are chosen for the students to dissect are uninteresting and generic so that they are understandable by the general population.

Instead, students see no point in taking the general English classes because completing the assignments takes little effort and thought. Because of this, general English classes are quickly losing what little credibility they have. We must understand that these classes do have the possibility to shape the way we think about and critique the world.

English is fundamental; the lessons it has to teach are fundamental. Sadly, it is one of the hardest subjects to teach in a way that makes it seem fundamental. But think about it: More than likely, most of what you learn will be taught to you and received by you in English, so improving your skills in a tactful manner can only be good. Because of the vastness of its reach, the concepts taught can be too broad and dismissed as second nature.

English is all about communication, and that is often the misstep in general English classes. Social media is unarguably the means by which our generation not only chats but also shares news and ideas. The social media platform has the potential to be scholarly; maybe collegiate academia should be pushing in that direction.

Generally, English classes are a bit behind in the way we connect to one another and learn. Doing away with traditional essays may be a way to do that, and the SATs recent move to remove the mandatory essay portion of their testing might be a sign of that new direction. The keyword here is traditional, though.

The concept of an essay needs to be more fluid and adaptable in relation to the particular information being communicated. An engineer’s concept of an essay would differ greatly from an English major’s essay, so why not start teaching this as early as possible? High school is probably too young, as most students are clueless as to what they want do, and rightfully so. Even a large portion of college kids are stuck in that mindset, but perhaps experiencing a major-specific English class would sway them one way or the other.

English is the most blatantly necessary curriculum in how it directly applies to every other class, and it is a shame if students view it as a waste of time just because it does not clearly connect with their interests. There is simply no excuse for this, since English has the unique potential to connect with every interest.