What if, rather than offer platitudes about the value of the liberal arts to students who are justifiably anxious about their economic future, we actually taught them to market themselves and their degrees with integrity? What if, alongside teaching our disciplines, we taught students to identify and articulate the usefulness of their educational choices?
Those questions led me to offer a new course this past fall called "Novel English Majors." I developed it because I want to make sure that my students can literally feed themselves and their loved ones without starving their souls.
The idea was to analyze the representation of literary types in contemporary fiction and learn how the skills associated with that analysis can lead to fulfilling and economically viable lives for nonfictional English majors — i.e., my students. Throughout the semester, they demonstrated not only their hunger for, but also their creative uses of, such an education. The experiment has become my modest proposal for how we can recast the crisis in the humanities as an opportunity to show the real-world value of non-STEM disciplines.