Literature and the Falsehood of Education

Unfortunately, while I was in college, I didn’t study certain aspects of literature that I wish I had. The various parts that comprise a story, what makes a work Victorian versus Edwardian, various schemes of poetry, and other topics were discussed very quickly before being passed over. I would’ve liked to study the bones of a story so I would be able to incorporate them in my own writing where I could point them out distinctly. I know what the general arc of a storyline is and how it can/should be written, but this comes from having read novels and other stories, not from the classroom. There is a lot I learned on my own but it would’ve been nice to have covered some of these topics in greater depth so I could feel that my English degree gave me superior knowledge of such things whereas now, I don’t feel it gave me greater understanding and knowledge but just made me aware of the various genres out there.

In high school, my English classes were much more formulaic in that they covered what comprised a story, a poem, or an article. If we covered poems, we read everything from Whitman to Spenser, but we were given background on both and told why one poem fell under one genre rather than another aside from the author’s name. When we read stories or novels, we were told the genre and that it was simply considered a genre because of the time period in which the work was written. Long story short, I would’ve like to know what characteristics made something Romantic versus Gothic versus Victorian to where I could point them out in any story. We didn’t really get to that level in high school because it’s high school. I expected that out of my time in college but was left wanting.

Now, I have two choices: go back to school to earn a masters in English Literature, a very long and expensive route that doesn’t offer much incentive other than prestige of receiving a masters degree. I already obtained the prestige of having earned a bachelor’s degree in English but I’m still left feeling as if I still lack the knowledge someone who has received an English degree should posses, so I’m skeptical about further throwing money at over-priced universities without gaining much real practicable knowledge. My other option is to read as much as I can on these subjects, read the books discussed in them, and develop my own understanding of classic literature and writing versus contemporary.

As of now, the latter of these two options is my only choice. I can’t afford to go back to school for a masters degree because the bachelor’s degree was already so expensive. Maybe one day I will go back and receive a masters degree but I will need much more incentive to do so. From what I have seen, there has been so much emphasis put on receiving more and more formal education by means of a university degree that a doctorate today holds the level of knowledge one was expected to receive with a bachelors degree one-hundred years ago. Based on that, it would make more sense for me to stick with what I have and simply read more on the subjects I want to study because a university will only tell me that the masters degree I receive won’t mean much in ten years and I’ll have to go back to school to earn a doctorate but only they can give me the proper education, it cannot be self-learned according to them. The parody in this instance being that university degrees are, in reality, becoming artificial demand created by those that offer them. Each degree is actually becoming less practically valuable where their cost grows higher because in ten years, it’ll be commonplace to have.

One hundred years ago, someone with a bachelors degree was considered a highly intelligent person in the subject. However, the actual value of the degree has shrunk considerably because someone who holds a bachelors degree in a subject now is no longer considered an intellectual on the matter but merely holds a place academically similar to someone in a entry-level position. Today, in order to be considered an academic on a given subject, one must receive a masters degree – essentially saying the knowledge one used to receive in a bachelors, you must now sacrifice more time and money to receive, implying the bachelors degree is of less importance and gives less knowledge on a subject than it once did. Students are paying a hundred times more for less education.

Because of this dysfunction where universities are now running off of business models of profit and revenue rather than education and learning, I am very hesitant to give them any more of my money or time. I’d like to have a superior knowledge of literature but if a bachelors degree didn’t give me that, why would a masters? Or would I have to go back and get a doctorate? What about saving myself the time and money by simply purchasing and reading these books on my own and scouring the abundance of sources on the internet through free online courses and workshops that discuss these same topics for free? I think, I will read these works outside of a classroom setting and utilize my bachelors degree as a guide in this quest rather than as a precise map.

Already, I’ve learned more from reading classic works on my own and analyzing them than I did by reading uninteresting and uninspiring work in a classroom setting run by uninspired and uninspiring professors and especially more so than by writing a term paper on an abstract subject that a professor formulated independently rather than by what an author intended.

Universities were built on providing an education that would secure a better life and better job for those who received degrees from them. Unfortunately, universities have failed miserably in upholding this promise as more college-educated people are out of work than ever before, so many obtain jobs in fields vastly different than the field they studied, and on top of it all, it now costs exponentially more for the privilege. Education has failed and a perfect example of this is that to this day, I’ve never heard of a grammar school, high school, or university implementing a class in its curriculum about how to do your taxes. One of the most essential aspects of adulthood has been overlooked, but it was so important for me to know the nucleus is the powerhouse of the cell…

I do want to have a superior grasp and knowledge of literature but I don’t wholeheartedly believe universities provide the best path for that. I like reading, writing, and analyzing. I think that one great work will lead me to another and another and another. I’m sure I can find an online platform that is looking for the same knowledge that I am. I’m sure I can find a group in person as well. For now, I will read everything I can and absorb as much as I can on the subject. As far as further formal education goes, maybe when the actual value of it matches the price, I will reconsider.

What do you think about literature? What do you think about college and it’s monetary value versus its actual value?

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  1. Your points cut close to the bone for me. And good luck turning your degree into something marketable! Nowadays literature is just a pastime and arts degrees abound like grasshoppers in summer… unfortunately.

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    1. Why do you they cut close? Do you mind elaborating on that? Luckily, I’ve been able to market my skills in writing and communication and landed a career. While it’s outside of the common English Major jobs, I’ve managed to utilize my skills as an English Major in it. Unfortunately, not many arts degrees prepare you to market or use your knowledge outside of the immediate field of study and there are so few jobs within them, hence why we see so many arts degrees producing unemployed degree-holders.

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  2. As far as I can see, if you want a career that deals with literature which is not publishing your own work, you’d probably have to work for some kind of cultural publication or academics. All of which would likely have high competition.

    I definitely think that if your goal is purely that of learning, and you have been given a solid foundation in researching and writing papers, you’d be better off doing your own studies out of a university. If you wanted to go into academics, you’d probably need a masters.

    I definitely think that university has become part of a larger gristmill, a way of locking people into the current social system. I’m not saying that’s it’s only function but it certainly has that effect.

    It’s unfortunate that people don’t see the importance of literature anymore today. I’ve been studying it for years now and I write for personal interest. I’m at university for history and am fairly certain that my goal is a career in academics, unless I can gain indepdence through publishing.

    Do you have a lot of people with whom you share the interest in literature?

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