By Taylor Blasko
Last week I explored the question of what it meant to be an English major with actual real life English majors at DelVal. This week I wanted to explore a similar question but with an actual real life English Professor here at DelVal. So this is an interview that I did with Professor Brian Lutz that you all may know from the English department. Maybe you had him for Intro to Lit or maybe you had him for an upper level English class, but either way you know he always has a lot to say about everything. So we talked about what being an English major meant, and as usual due to my high anxiety of graduating, the end of the interview turned to how to make decisions about life basically. Good times.
Taylor: What do you think the single most valuable aspect about being an English major is?
Brian: I think that’s a question that’s more like, “what’s the problem with education?” if that makes sense. And I think one of the concerns I have with the outside view of education is that it’s imagined as sort of a commodity —a thing you can get, or collect —like, I got these knowledges or I got this whatever. I think that by its nature English (and not only English there are a number of other majors that do this, and I think all majors can do this if done correctly) it’s not knowledge, but vision that you get. From the point of view of “what does it mean to be an English major?” what you’re getting is, “how do I look at the world? How do I interpret things? How do I weight A against B?” It doesn’t allow for, as a major, it doesn’t allow for summary. It doesn’t allow for you to just say the events happened like A, B, and C. It forces you to ask, “Why A, why B, why C?” It forces you to ask, “Are you sure they’re connected?” It forces you to ask, “In what other ways are they connected?” Because that’s what we do all the time, and I 100% think that’s true for many other majors as well, but I think in some instances what happens really sort of obviously and profoundly in English, is that you can’t get away with memorization as equaling education. You can’t get away with any sort of learn and dump mentality. And so, though it doesn’t kind of register as a degree type of thing, where you can say oh English leads to an A job, B job, C job…it never the less recognizes that all jobs require ways of thinking about problems rather than what sort of memorization you may have mastered. And don’t get me wrong I think knowledge is important. You have to know things, you should know things in your field, but I don’t know that you need us for that…(there’s a thing that will get me fired)…I don’t know that you need professors for knowledge because knowledge is a thing that’s available to the public. You can get it from books, you can get it from a number of other things. One of the things that this school prides itself on, and I think rightfully, is this idea of Experiential Learning. The experience is about the verb, right? Education, English, and Literature are verbs not nouns. It’s a way of doing a thing, not the thing itself. And whether that’s working some job with experience or what I think is best is to pose a problem and have students try to solve that problem —that prepares you for the world.
Taylor: Why do you think that English is taken for granted as a major?
Brian: The number one reason I think that English is taken for granted is because it’s called English. What happens there is people go, “I speak English.” You know what I mean? Everybody knows it. So if you’re here and you’re learning you know English. So you go, why do I need it? Even the word Literature doesn’t do that either, because then people just say, “that’s a book.” But it’s not just that, it’s the act of interpretation that we’re teaching. It gets taken for granted because it seems like a thing that you just know by virtue of being alive in America.
Taylor: What does the job market look like for English right now?
Brian: It’s surprisingly good. But see there’s the thing, even I’m surprised by it. Even after all my talk, I’m like yea! They got degrees they did things! But it’s good. People who have degrees in English tend to get jobs, they do pretty well. It’s not necessarily immediately the case. There are majors where you can get a better paying job immediately after college, that’s just a fact. But there are few better majors if what you’re hoping for is consistent employment. And across the board everybody who gets a degree tends to do okay kind of thing. The biggest problem people face is there isn’t a job called Literature, you know, like Literaturing…though that’s true for so many other majors too. You just get a job in the field. It’s easy to get a job it’s just not necessarily going to be exactly what you planned for.
Taylor: What’s your best advice to current English majors/soon to be graduates?
Brian: I think that is a moment of panic for people. To that end, my best advice is don’t panic. And the reason for that is when you tag on “soon to be graduate” part, what you’re really saying is “what do you advise people whose lives are about to change irrevocably?” You know, my advice is that the world is actually prepared for you, you’ve just been told for so long that it isn’t. You are actually prepared for the world, you’ve just been told for so long that it’s impractical and not valuable, based on everything we’ve talked about previously. All of that change makes it feel like all of the decisions you make today effect the rest of your life in ways that are electric chair simple. Where it’s like, I did the right thing and the switch didn’t go off, or I did the wrong thing and now my whole body is shaking. It’s not that. That same moment is one you had in high school. I have to make this decision because it’s a decision that is going to determine the rest of my life, and it’s going to determine A, B, and C and you get here like, this is a relatively small school and you go, you know what maybe something different. Maybe a slight change, maybe a massive change. And that change led you to where you are. And then you go, well I already made that big change, I don’t ever want to have to do that again. And what can come from that? [Some context here, I’m a double major and when I came here as a Wildlife Management student I later picked up another major in English, this is what he is referring to about me] But a lot of things can come from that…and I’ll use personal experience here, which is never really a fair judge of what the rest of the world is but, for me I had more than one degree, didn’t know what I was going to do, eventually I ended up being here teaching Literature. Erin [his wife], same thing. She didn’t know what she was going to do and now she does freelance. There for a while she did editing and that changed for her. My close friend Dennis, he has a degree in English as well, he became a lawyer and now he’s the Vice President at a casino. The paths are not as simple as we expect them to be. But if we go back to the first question, one of the real values of the English degree is nobody here is telling you that things are simple. Nobody here is saying there isn’t an over determined amount of input and data. We are saying from the beginning oh my god there is so much, what do you do with all that? That’s a way to kind of navigate. So despite the fact that these thins feel like massive decisions, I would say you’re prepared for them, it just probably doesn’t feel like you’re prepared for them. Yet, I trust that anyone who is graduating from here has been through the gauntlet of Turner, Stamps, DePeter, McCall, Lutz, etc. is going to be fine making those decisions. It’s not the last decision you’ll make.
Taylor: **Nervous laughter about the rest of her life.**