There’s a reason English class is a requirement

Photo by Casey Gomez

How can Shakespeare’s The Tempest be read through the lens of imperialist policy? What benefits are there to studying books that are way too long, like Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children? Many at Tech have had to ask similar questions in their own version of ENGL 1101 and 1102. 

As a first-year engineering major currently enrolled in ENGL 1102, I have also been asking myself some tough questions. After all, Tech as a school is heavily STEM oriented, and I often hear my friends saying they “hate English class.” So why are we taking English classes with these random themes? 

While the sections of English have vastly different topics, the main curriculum is still the same. One defining feature is the WOVEN modes of communication — Written, Oral, Visual, Electronic and Non-Verbal — that are taught in the course. Another is the three to four projects or “Artifacts” that ultimately get compiled into a final portfolio. 

Often times it feels like English class is something you have to get through, but that is precisely the issue. English is not useless, and it is not just a mundane requirement. It teaches imperative skills that everyone, including STEM majors, needs to succeed. Further, you will learn skills in your English class — like the ability to draw meaningful connections between seemingly different topics — that you will not be able to learn from any other class. I believe that cultivating communication skills through an English class is a non-negotiable for a college education. Still, it is clear that some changes still need to be made. 

I think it is helpful to understand the rationale behind specific theme. Both my ENGL 1101 and 1102 themes were enjoyable, not because I was already interested in the subject, but because my teachers were enthusiastic about the material and were clear about why it mattered to them. It helped a lot to understand that my English teachers were teaching directly about their own research, which is something you rarely get as a first-year taking very general classes. 

Secondly, while I realize the WOVEN part of the curriculum is one of the consistencies across sections of English, I believe they need to be more deeply integrated into the class. Sometimes, it can feel as if WOVEN is just a box that your teacher is trying to tick off so they can get to the more interesting things. The culminating project is directly about WOVEN, and it can be difficult to do it when you only discussed it in the beginning of the semester. 

Finally, I believe the biggest change that should be made is in the attitudes of the students themselves. We need to see English class the way it is: a chance to hone the communication skills we will inevitably need through our careers — or even to land an internship at a career fair. This attitude shift will never be universal; there will always be those kids that just “hate English class.” But at least when we are taking a class about real-life vampires, instead of seeing it as a burden, we can start seeing it as an opportunity to learn about something vastly different than our field of study.