English degree requirements: A closed book?

Amanda Chappell, section editor


Saint Martin’s University offers a wide variety of degree options, in hopes of appealing to the interest of every student. From a plethora of science degrees to humanities, St. Martin’s provides career options for every mindset. One major that can often be overshadowed in the world of technology is English, a degree in which those who are passionate about literature and composition can delve into the wonderful world of words strung beautifully together. But, how does the major at St. Martin’s compare to other universities across the country?

Here at SMU, English students are required to take College Writing I & II, Literary Studies, Literary Foundations, as well as the undergraduate core requirements, for their lower division electives. For upper division, students have the options of American Literature to 1870 or After 1870, Shakespeare, and, of course, Senior Thesis Seminar. To make up the rest of the credit hours, five upper division electives are mandatory, with many different course options available.

One question that arisen amongst current English students here, is the absence of a modern literature requirement. Sure, modern fiction and modern poetry are offered as electives, and if you’re lucky, they just might be added to the course list while you’re a student. Second-year English student, Savannah Schilperoort, said, “our English classes are great, it’s not that they don’t teach us about valuable literature, but honestly, they sometimes feel like history classes. We need more modern literature that speaks to modern students. If not for better engaging the students, then for those who are thinking of pursuing a career in non-academia.” The argument persists that interests lay beyond the historical context of literature, as there is so much yet to be learned in the texts that have been produced in the last fifty years.

Stanford University seems to have picked up on this notion, as one of their English fulfillments prompts the student to choose between Introduction to African American Literature or Modern Literature for a core requirement. Though still a choice, it seems to be a more prevalent option, instead of a once-every-two-years class.

California universities seem to be key advocates for modern literature, as University of California, Davis, follows suit with teaching contemporary works. Their second required course, in the catalog listed on their website, is Introduction to Modern Literature and Critical Theory, a course designated to introduce students into a small portion of contemporary texts (chosen by the professor) and familiarize them with techniques to critique and understand the texts.

Not all are opposed to St. Martin’s approach, however. Olivia Kemp, also a second-year English student, spoke about her opinion on the program requirements, “I think [the required classes] are that way because [the faculty] wants us to know the kind of writing that lead up to modern literature. Since we can’t time travel, it is important to know what kind of writing was being produced back then. Compared to what is being produced now. How historical authors may have influenced and inspired modern-age authors.”

So, the question remains to be unrequited, of why Shakespeare seems to be the foundation of all literature-based programs, or why modern fiction doesn’t get the attention it deserves at some institutions, but it’s important to know that options are available, elsewhere.

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