My friend recently earned his first 4.0. Ecstatic, he posted on Facebook, “Whooooo first 4.0 in a class ever, I mean it was creative writing but I totally worked my ass off…” While I was proud of his grade, I was disconcerted by his assumption that he would need a “disclaimer for the haters,” as he put it. A 4.0 is a 4.0, isn’t it?
As society races further and further into science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the humanities are forced into the back seat. I agree that it is important to advance technology, but I can’t help but wonder what it would all mean if it weren’t for the self-reflective, introspective nature of the humanities. Not only are writers considered less worthy of praise and recognition for their success, statistics show they are literally worth less too.
As a writing consultant in the Teaching and Learning Center on campus, I help students with every aspect of writing: outlining, drafting, and revision for essays, stories, resumes, and even textbook questions. The schedule is almost always booked, sometimes three weeks or more in advance. We are essential. After a few months into my job, I learned that the writing consultants are paid less than the quantitative tutors, who specialize in mathematics, computer science, statistics, environmental sciences, accounting & finance, and economics.
This fact shouldn’t have surprised me, based on the idea that when scouring the 100 best paying jobs in America, not one includes opportunities for writers. The top ten bounce between the medical field and information technology and the remaining 90 are much of the same. I’d love to blame the site I read it on, USNews.com, for a possible bias, but statistics don’t lie, and sadly, what is painfully clear when laid out in a ranked list, is also reflected on our campus.
As a creative writer and journalist, I am battered daily with ideas. I see what the world looks like, what it can be, and I am constantly thinking about how I can relate those visions, the real and the possible, through my work. It is my calling to utilize my creativity to make a difference in the world, so I feel particularly disheartened when I see how society undervalues the work I, and others like me, do.
Without the works of Orwell, Fitzgerald, Salinger, Kafka, Joyce, Hemingway and the thousands of other authors who came before the 20th century and after, what would the world look like? Many of the ethics and morals that guide contemporary society took shape around reflections on these influential author’s ideas. Ideas, planted like seeds, left to sprout and push their roots into every facet of daily life.
Literature is meant to move and inspire, but it can also be intentionally revolutionary. Karl Marx and his Communist Manifesto highlighted the struggle of class within capitalist societies or Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which blew the lid off of the detrimental use of DDT and other pesticides and herbicides, and facilitating one of the first instances of wide-spread questioning of the US government.
The human race can tinker and advance technologically as long as the tools allow, but the study of human culture, to be critical or speculative about our history, what has come before and where we are headed, is crucial for understanding what it’s all about. I think it’s about time those skills are recognized. Hell yes, my friend got a 4.0. He got a 4.0 for doing what few people can do well. He did, and we do, and that creativity helps shape the world we live in.