English Offers Little Return on the Investment, Mr. Romney? Not in my Country
So little in life is sure.
That's a cliche. We all know that. For some of us, though, this cliche is a pain in the neck. We want security. We want to know what's coming . Others among us are perfectly content--excited, even--to strap on the parachute and jump from a perfectly operational airplane to see what will happen because, what the heck, so little in life is sure.
I like to think I fall into the second group most of the time. On this occasion, though, I fall into the former.
This occasion? It's over and done with, but I'm just getting around to articulating an opinion on it: Mr. Mitt Romney's little visit to Otterbein University in Ohio in April, when he said that students should borrow (heavily) from their parents to get started in business, and they should not major in English in college because they'll never get their money back.
I read his words on Slatest and thought my usual, "Wow," in response to the politics-from-the-out-of-touch campaign. This English major/English teacher/blogger/proud mother of a beautiful writer had nothing for a good few days. Mr. Romney shut me up. Stupid often does that to me.
Then, the college graduate who earned her degree in English on a full academic scholarship, complements of the taxpayers of the great state of Connecticut, laughed out loud. This college graduate who earned her degree with the support of her fellow citizens is a public school teacher whose area of expertise is on every standardized test across this nation.
So how is English not worth the investment?
In short, we as a nation spend an awful lot of money on English, a subject that Mr. Romney says offers no monetary return on our investment in it. (Look at my pay stub if you want a concrete definition of "no monetary return on our investment in it." Then look at me and notice that I am not complaining because I love what I do and I love this great nation that has room for people like Mitt Romney, who so readily disown the wonder of English as our language, our primary means for connecting with the people around us, our primary means for being a nation.
Our primary means for learning about the world on the other side of our own precious skin. English is the language, and literature, the art, that teaches us to empathize with others. Literature introduces us to the world around us.
Literature forms nations. Remember, sir, that the humble pamphlet played a key role in establishing our independence. Remember, also, that the group project called The Declaration of Independence was an Aristotlean argumentative essay written primarily by a dude who liked to read.)
In the same speech, Mr. Romney made a disingenuous reference to one of our "Founding Fathers." He thought he might have been referring to President John Adams. (Since Mr. Adams hailed from Boston, Mr. Romney might have let go of the disingenuousness and latched onto the state pride, but what do I know? I have two degrees in literature.)
Anyway, according to Romney, Adams said that facts are stubborn things. OK. (President Obama killed Osama bin Laden: stubborn fact.) He was using President Adams for his own purposes, and I am about to do the same by referring to my favorite Founder, Ben Franklin and a stubborn fact about English.
Franklin was a great reader who climbed the social and political ladders for the good of this nation before it even was one by reading. He networked by sharing his library. The muckety-mucks of this colonial backwater wanted what he had: books. So they made his acquaintance and tried to earn his respect. Our nation became one because our founders cherished literacy and the ideas it brought to them. Ben Franklin's autobiography ought to be on every curriculum in this nation.
Here's something else for Mr. Romney. It never would have occurred to me to ask my parents for $20,000 for my education, much less to start a business. But my parents--who are as conservative as I am liberal and have nothing to do with the writing of this post--taught me the value of hard work. And my home state of Connecticut backed me up by putting me through college. And here I am earning peanuts because the freedom that reading and writing have brought to me--and I am referring to the freedom to express myself, to share the love I feel, to give to this incredibly beautiful world whatever I can, and to think and dream of new ways to give more--because English is important. It is the discipline that speaks to our humanity. It is the discipline that has produced many a lawyer and businessman—like Mr. Romney—by teaching them to consider the manifold meanings that reside in the details.
Mr. Romney, I am the daughter of working people who share my belief in America even if what they believe is not what I believe. Think about that and tip your hat to the great Pennsylvanian whose printing presses made the sharing of ideas among the entire electorate an ordinary, entertaining, and interesting thing to do. (I am referring to Benjamin Franklin.)
I don't care what your wife who never worked spends on horses. I am the queen of my universe because the Puerto Rican kids I have taught have told me I am not white. Which is to say that they accept me and that they are as white as I am Puerto Rican. Which is to say American. (Which is to say this grand experiment called the United States actually works pretty well.) And if you got a little itchy at any point in reading this paragraph, you're too white to be our president. Go back to your day job while we get ready for that standarized test in unimportant English. We who believe in the humanities just aren’t feeling you. We happen to believe what I think the 44th president has said, that “the best anti-poverty program is a world-class education.” These days, that means learning to be human. It’s no waste of money.