Guest Post by Dr. Christine Schott: Why the Humanities (Still) Matter

This piece by Assistant Professor of English Dr. Christine Schott appears in the Fall 2015 issue of Inside Erskine magazine. We think she makes a compelling case for why the humanities continue to be relevant to today’s college students.

Dr. Schott visited the Isle of Skye this summer as part of her ongoing research into medieval manuscripts and texts.

Dr. Schott visited the Isle of Skye this summer as part of her ongoing research into medieval manuscripts and texts.

English majors dread being asked what they will do with their degree. Literature professors always say, “You can do anything with an English degree,” and that’s true. But it leaves English majors with no clear path into any one field.

This apparent disconnect between degree and career path applies to almost all of the humanities majors—what do you do with a B.A. in history, religion, or philosophy? This has led a practical-minded, vocal sector of the public to question the value of the humanities and even of the liberal arts in general. But as a literature professor, I continue to believe that the humanities are not only still relevant in today’s world but may be more important than ever.

English majors, for example, graduate with skills vital to success in any number of fields. They learn, most importantly, to write cogently and communicate clearly both in speech and in print. They learn to look beyond surface rhetoric to analyze motives, biases, and far-reaching implications of what seem at first to be simple situations.

These students learn to synthesize information, reconcile conflicting viewpoints, and think outside the box; in other words, they become problem solvers. Despite recent negative press about the humanities, both media and employers are gradually coming forward to point out that humanities majors are desirable in a wide variety of fields—especially in leadership—because they have these vital transferrable skills.

But humanities majors have more to offer the world than their services as employees. I point out to my students that studying literature makes them better consumers (because they learn to recognize bias in advertisement), better citizens (because they learn to cut through political rhetoric), and better human beings (because they learn what it actually means to be human).

Find yourself thinking the poor are just lazy and ignorant? Read John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. Having a hard time understanding why anybody would hold to a system of beliefs different from yours? Read Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. Think technology alone has the potential to solve the world’s problems? Read just about anything by Orson Scott Card or Ray Bradbury — or for that matter, watch the Terminator movies; film and literature are just different forms of the same endeavor.

Reading literature changes us: it might make us angry by exposing injustices that we had previously been able to ignore, or it might make us uncomfortable by challenging our assumptions about right and wrong, “us” and “them,” but it makes it impossible for us to stay the same. Once you see the humanity of people you had never thought about before, it becomes a lot harder to hate them. And when it becomes harder to hate, then it becomes easier to care. And if there’s one thing this war-torn, contentious world has too few of, it is people who care for others, even those they do not know, simply because we are all human.

I am not saying that every student should be an English or humanities major; not everyone enjoys history or literature (a fact that continues to mystify me, although I may be a little biased). But for those students whose souls are called out of their bodies by beautiful words, for those who forget to eat because they are so deeply involved in a history book, or for those who forego sleep because they’re asking the big questions that were raised in their philosophy class, it would be a shame to abandon what they love simply because someone else has told them it isn’t “relevant.”

The truth is that a humanities education is beneficial in every life calling, from stay-at-home parent to president of the United States.

English majors do not need to defend their course of study to make it relevant; it already is. And they do not need to change their major to be employable; they only need to augment it. There is no fundamental conflict between the humanities and “practical” education. In fact, in the coming generation, I hope we will see the liberal arts increasing in cultural and market value as employers, educators, and students alike recognize how much the world still needs the humanities.

Cold Weather, Warm Conversation

As the temperature drops and the new semester starts for many college
students, Erskine begins what its students affectionately call “J-term.”
This one-month semester in January offers students the opportunity to take
one class that they might not otherwise have time or desire to take at a
much slower pace than during the normal semester. Instead of taking a
class, for my sophomore year I am externing with Erskine’s communications

Today, instead of browsing college pamphlets and literature to learn about
publication style, voice, and design, I had the chance to sit down with
Mrs. Joyce Guyette, the Associate Director of Written Communications at
the home of the Flying Fleet. Mrs. Guyette writes for the campus alumni
publication Inside Erskine,and proofreads some of Erskine's other

After earning her English major, Mrs. Guyette attended graduate school and
completed her coursework after her first child was born. From her
description of her various editing and proofreading positions throughout
her life, a common theme has risen from Mrs. Guyette’s timeline of jobs.
Instead of a strategic career track or plan to climb the ladder of
English-related jobs, Mrs. Guyette seems to have been found by her editing
positions. She displays a great faith in the Lord, staying true to what
she enjoys, and trusting Him to provide. Moving around from places like
Florida, Tennessee, and North Carolina, the Guyettes currently find
themselves in the Palmetto state, with Mrs. Guyette enjoying using her
English major to write and proof for Erskine College.

In addition to talking about what has led up to her position at Erskine,
Mrs. Guyette also shared a bit about the writing process with me. One of
my favorite anecdotes she shared was about her uncle, who served as senior
editor and senior writer at Sports Illustrated some years ago. He told his
brother, Mrs. Guyette's father, that he hears the rhythm of the writing in
his head. I found it particularly interesting to learn about how her jobs
differed in respect to work environments, group work versus individual
assignments, and her transition from thinking on paper and working with a
typewriter in college to completing the whole writing process on the

It was encouraging to learn that she was able to use her English major in
many ways that she loved. While I’ve heard many times about the benefit of
teaching after receiving an English major, it was inspiring to hear about
the many other prospects available for English majors. Also, in the
climate of pressured career preparation and long-term planning fostered in
college, it was relieving to hear a success story of someone who followed
what she loved, pursued education in what she enjoyed, and let the Lord
lead her to thoroughly enjoyable job opportunities.

After sharing her story with me, Mrs. Guyette offered some advice
regarding my college education. I am currently a double major in English
and Art, but have been on the fence as far as the English side goes for
the past semester. However, Mrs. Guyette encouraged me to take time during
the slower January term to stop, think, and pray about what direction to
go, and what to major and minor in.

I loved talking with Mrs. Joyce Guyette about her experiences in the
English world; her love of writing and editing seems to be contagious, as
I find myself reconsidering the English track at Erskine more deeply than
before our conversation. She has a wealth of information, and it was
wonderful to have a conversation with her.