Rhetorical Analysis of The Ideal English Major
The article The Ideal English Major, by Mark Edmundson, argues against the common idea that an English degree is useless. The author posits that while the current economic downtown has pushed students away from liberal arts studies and towards the hard sciences or business, an English degree is still worthwhile as it teaches students to understand what makes us human. Through reading, people gain a better understanding of different lifestyles and eras and can integrate that knowledge into their day-to-day dealings with other people. Degrees that are thought to be more practical, such as biology or economics, allow students to experience the world through graphs and data, which limits the ability for a student to draw their own conclusions about the world. An academic background in English allows students the ability to experience what life has to offer on an individual basis, both through already written text and text that has yet to be written. English majors are also faced with competing opinions on major topics, such as love and nature, and must decided for themselves where the correct answers lays. Edmundson concludes his argument by reiterating that in order to be a whole human being, students must study English before pursuing other fields.
Edmundson's article argues although an English degree is not regarded as the most practical degree choice for future college students, a degree in English affords a deeper understanding of humanity than a degree in biology or business. This message will resonate strongest with students who are already considering a degree in a liberal arts field or serve as validation for persons who have dedicated their life in some way to the study of English. This article will also resonate with readers who have not necessarily sought formal training in English but still value and enjoy reading and writing. The article may not be as successful reaching out to new audiences, such as those who do not enjoy reading or already have preconceived ideas about the value of an English degree. This article may not be as effective in convincing foreign exchange students coming to the United States for their education to switch their major as many of the pleas that Edmundson makes rely on heavily Americanized ideals of what education and personal fulfillment look like.
Edmundson incorporates the use of ethos, pathos and logos into his argument about the value of an English degree. At the end of the article, Edmundson includes a brief biography of his background, letting the readers know that he is an English professor and published author, which lends credence to his arguments about the importance of an English degree. The inclusion of his biography may also work against him in some instances as those opposed to his argument might find this article to be self-serving and biased. The article is consistent in the arguments it makes and the central theme, which helps create logos, but the article lacks any hard data or statistical facts to support the claims. Although it is difficult to quantify the benefits that Edmundson is arguing for in this article, his lack of data makes it even more difficult to capture the attention and respect of scientific or business minded people who are drawn to numbers and measurable benefits. Pathos is the most prominent appeal in this article as Edmundson relies heavily on poetic language and emotional pleas to entice the reader. Once again, those who are already interested in literature will find this argument compelling, yet those who are not as enamored by the English language may find the author's pleas to be weak and rooted too strongly in personal beliefs.
Even if Edmundson's article The Ideal English Major fails to convince the entire population to become English majors, his arguments are compelling enough to convince readers that opening a book from time to time is valuable as it allows humans the opportunity to see the world through a different lens and develop empathy for persons whose stories are different than their own. Although there is a time and place for the hard facts and pre-determined rhetoric that the hard sciences and business fields offer, it is important not to lose sight of the importance of language and how it preserves what makes us human.
Edmundson, Mark. “The Ideal English Major”. The Chronicle of Higher Education. 29 July 2013. Web. 21 Feb 2014.