to all those who say english is a useless subject

by - 8/07/2015 08:47:00 pm

Let me explain that wacky title. In my school, our English classes involve studying literature, poetry, films and books. One day some friends and I got back from a particularly tedious English lesson which we spent analysing 'The Road Not Taken' by Robert Frost. This is how the conversation went:

Jo: That was a waste of time.
Friend: I know, man. Why do we even need to analyse poetry?
Jo (sheepish): Uh, actually, what I meant was...
Friend: It's not like it's math or science. We don't need to recite damn poems in real life.
Jo (in silent protest): ...



Why is English important?

Let me counter a question back at you: do you think the only things worth learning in the world is maths and science? What a dull world, a dystopian horror that would be. Like in Fahrenheit 451.

Literature is art. Art is humanity. Art is history. Art is beauty. It's the one thing that robots aren't so good at doing yet. We often cite intellect as what makes us humans and not animals, but I think it's more than that.

We are able to create things to inspire others, to spark in people a feeling other than fear or shock or other survival instincts. Sure, it can be boring. But it's importance cannot be measured by any unit you learnt from Math class.

Can you really say that Frost, Angelou, King, Dickens, Shakespeare (praise be to he), Poe, Fitzgerald, Gaiman or Christie contributed less to humanity than Einstein or Edison?


There's a scene from The Da Vinci Code that I remember. It's when Sophie uses Da Vinci's Madonna of the Rocks as a shield from someone who has his gun pointed at her. He pauses, thinks to himself, I can't put a bullet through Da Vinci!

It's pretty funny, but also thought-provoking. Da Vinci did more than smear paint on a canvas: he created something. There's a reason why Mona Lisa is still analysed today, and that simple reason is curators think it is still worth analysing.

It is worth understanding literature, as it is worth understand philosophy, culture, history and human nature. It's important for self-reflection and self-expression. But ultimately, the question "Why is English useful?" is a question you must answer yourself. I know math is useful because I'll use all the time. History is useful because it factors into political decisions, and we learn not to repeat history. Science teaches us to fact-check, to disprove and doubt and know more about the natural world. It's true, calculus and Faraday's Law might not be particularly useful in my life. But the subjects themselves still teach invaluable skills.


"You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes to the ground and somehow they'll still find their way back. But if you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements and it's as if they never existed."
—The Monuments Men, 2014

Where does English rank on your order of important subjects?

EDIT (3/08/17): Since people still ask me about this post, I thought I might take this a bit more seriously than just writing a brief, catchy post. So I'll leave my response to one commentor so you have a better understanding on my current position on this issue:

Though these days I think there's something wrong with English classes, I still maintain the belief that literature and arts are just as valuable to society as science and math. Of course, there was a time when science was much more important to humanity simply because we prioritised survival - cavemen are a good example.

Now, let's think about what's happened since. Like it or not, everything you do and think is a by-product of written works. The way you speak and the thoughts you have are not new and they're certaintly not original. What you know about love, revenge, tragedy, grief, death - all of your personal beliefs on these ideas that didn't come from your own experiences came from someone else. Picture a million artists collectively sharing a brain, a network through which they can gain a greater, universal understanding of fundamental human concepts. This network is literature. It's art. And those writers like Shakespeare have distilled their collective thoughts across history, into mass media, into people themselves. So the irony is that, no matter how much you reject literature in your own life, your own ideas of love were formulated and echoed by Shakespeare's pen. So finally, I challenge your definition of 'ridiclous'. I think the real ridiculousness is your passionate defence of lasers, GPS and satellites, and your equally passionate hatred of the very words you write, the thoughts you think, and the emotions you yourself feel.

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59 comments

  1. THIS. Thank you for this post.

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    1. Thanks for reading the post. :)

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  2. At the subject selections expo the English teacher said to me, "English is where we teach you life lessons." To be honest, I never held English in high regard simply because I'm so much better at maths and science, because they're both so black and white. But as I grew older, and got a teacher who had a similar way of thinking to me, I realised that English is all about communication; and just because I'm not amazing at drawing and sculpting doesn't mean I can't use words as my form of conveyance. I guess that's what poetry is: word art - not that I write poetry. And my current English teacher is showing us how words can be used in any order to basically document thoughts and opinions, and these thoughts and stories can be analysed to simply learn more about human nature. I'd say English is now my favourite subject. It's not my best subject, but it's still a favourite.

    -M
    The Life of Little Me

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    1. That's odd. At our school, English is compulsory no matter what. I can see what you mean about maths and science; it's either you're right or you're wrong. But I'm good at Rnglish precisely because it's a grey subject, you know? That being said, most of my friends seem to be math/science people like you. :)
      That's awesome about it being your favourite subject now! As bloggers, we're really just practising English all the time. Learning to express our thoughts, and your posts seem to specialise in human nature, which is fantastic.

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  3. Until my upcoming school year, I've never taken English. It's always just been Reading class. But this fall I will start taking ELA, which I am looking forward to a lot because I am very interested in literature and the art of it. So I completely agree with you-English is definitely a subject worth taking.

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    1. Oh my. You have seperate Reading and English classes? How different our education systems are. :') It's great that you're excited for it, and yeah, it's definitely a subject worth taking!

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  4. THANK YOU
    In the past, I overlooked English as something that was 'worthless' because we were just learning our own language in twelve year old me's perspective, but now I've grown to really appreciate the poetry we read and the people we study because it *is* an art. And even now, so many of the people and poems and stories we studied are brushed away by my classmates and perceived as 'boring' or 'unimportant', but the things they wrote and the lives they lived I still feel like were so much more than that.
    Beautiful post, by the way. Absolutely loved all the Robin Williams gifs. <3

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    1. Welcome! :')
      Yeah, me too! I used to think it was useless: what's the point of learning something I don't need in real life, I'd say? I'm so glad you agree with me! At times I find English boring, but it's a skill worth learning.
      Thank you so much! <3

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  5. Yes yes yes yes and a resounding yes!!!
    And a bravo to all of the Dead Poet's Society gifs:D

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    1. :D I'm glad you liked it.
      HIP HIP TO DPS!

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  6. I have to choices: starting next year, I can decide to stay or drop out of the program I'm in that revolves around heavy reading and analyzing of texts for AP classes. Honestly, English is pretty much one of the best things that society could contribute to us. Art is important, and without it, how are people supposed to be inspired and continue creating what there is today? Besides, not everyone has the mindset of a heavy math and science figure-- some people are more art oriented, and there's nothing wrong with that.

    xoxo Morning

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    1. If our school had a choice not to do those classes, most of us would probably not. :( That's great that you realise the importance of analysing literature! Also, very true what you said about mindsets. Isn't it odd how art/english/humanities/ oriented people are required to math and science, but not the other way around? At least, this is true in my school.

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  7. YES. English can sometimes be pointless- in highschool I feel like we often over analyse. But English teaches you very important skills and writers are artists reflect society in their work.

    I pretty much see all my subjects as equals, to be honest. They all have a use :)

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    1. :D Yeah, sometimes we do, but that's what happens when you do it for four years (for me), I guess. It's quite important though, I agree.

      Yeah, same! I love science and math and english and art alike, and view them as equals too. :)

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  8. Oh my goodness yes so much. The humanities subjects are still somehow seen as lesser than science subjects, which makes me really sad since I LOVE THEM BOTH. I mean, I aspire equally to be a doctor/scientist and a writer, but then people are just like, "OOH you wanna study medicine?" and I'm silently willing them to hear both parts of my answer.

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    1. ME TOO. I want to work in science or humanities, so those two I see as equal. Ah, the classic response. "Medicine? Sheesh." People seem to dismiss writers so easily. :(

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  9. SPEAK GIRL.

    i'm more of a science + math person, but you cannot take away art from life. life is so much more than a collection of mere numbers and figures; emotions are so much more than statistics and pulmonary circulation and neurology and chemicals that act on the brain. thank you for writing this post<3<3

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    1. :')
      Absolutely. The things we need to know for 'real life' (which is what school prepares us for) is usually cited to maths and science, but english is just as important. "Pulmonary circulation and neurology". Loving the phrasing. :)

      Thanks for reading!

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  10. Hiya, Jo!

    I totally understand this. Math is definitely useful, but I enjoy English way more, and so I tend to make it a higher priority. Math is more straightforward in the way that there is usually only one set answer. But with English, there is room to branch out, to explore, to express yourself, and to create something beautiful. I think that is why I love it so much.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
    -Bailey

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    1. Hey Bailey!

      Wow, you expressed my thoughts exactly. I think it's almost impossible to put one over the other, since both are necessary. I enjoy English more too. :)

      Thanks for reading them!

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    2. Okay so sorry I am making a second comment, but I nominated you for The Tag of Happiness! Here's the link if you are interested:
      http://thecuriositycollections.blogspot.com/2015/08/the-tag-of-happiness.html
      Have a wonderful day!

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  11. Dear Jo,

    This post is beautiful. Gaaah. Like, I can totally relate to you, girl. I hate it when people put down literature as if it's less important than other things. "Literature is art. Art is humanity. Art is history. Art is beauty." < THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. I feel like even with literature, some teachers and analysts will pull out the idea that there is a correct way to write. UGH, the whole thing deserves another blog post for another time, but let's just leave it at this: I agree, writing is an art. And it should be hailed and appreciated just as much as painting, music, or any other art. Thank you for this post -- it was a spark of hope to me. <3

    love,
    abbie

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    1. I'm so glad you liked it! This pleases me. >:) I don't like it either; it's just as important. Yeah, that's another good point I should've mentioned! What is the 'right' way to write? I think that's not the point of literature. You should write a blog post about it and tell me so I can see it (or I'll catch it on my dash). Thanks so much for reading. <3

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  12. KUDOS FOR ALL THE DEAD POETS GIFS! I adore that movie. I mean, it makes me hopping mad and I want to hurt all of the schools that were like that, but still. It is an amazing movie.

    But, for the record, I do love this. I'm really glad that I'm going to be attending a liberal arts college, where they insist that even the science people take English classes and stuff, because they think that is how you create a well-rounded human being, and I couldn't agree more. In my opinion, I think that there is a kind of creativity and personality that exists in the humanities—and those "science people" need that creativity and personality to remember who they are making discoveries for. Likewise, we "English people" shouldn't just box ourselves off into this box of language and imagination—there are some solid things out there that are beautiful and fascinating, and is really the place we are writing of. I think the truth is, if you only study one without the other, your life will not be as whole as it could be. It's not bad to have a focus or to like one more, but they're both necessary for you to really experience the world to the full.

    Well, that's what I think, anyway. Thanks for all your awesome thoughts, Jo!

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    1. HECK YEAH. The school was crazy and so were Neil's parents. I was pulling my hairs out while I was watching. But yes, great movie!

      I agree with that as well. Those science people will be well-rounded in knowledge and skills, because the skills you need to english are different to what you need for science. Scientist is a job of discovery, I couldn't agree more. It's less about working in a lab than it is about thinking outside of the box to contribute to our wordly database. The two subjects definitely go together. :)

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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  13. Thank you so much for this post - words can't comprehend the sheer depth of my agreement.

    Personally, I'd be lost without English, and find it to be a beautiful thing. It is in literature that I am able to express myself and subconsciously develop my understanding of the world. I'm certain that I'm not the only one who feels this way.

    Kate x
    www.theteenaspect.blogspot.co.uk

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    1. Thanks for reading. :)

      Same for me! The world would be a very sad place without literature. It's a lot more than words on a page, and you're right, it's beautiful.

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  14. oh yeah. this post. is truth.
    honestly, you have no idea how many times people make crude remarks about English and it's definitely a turn off for me. art is BEAUTY, and that is amazing. why despise it? literature is beautiful, to find the meaning behind lines and phrases is beautiful. you can express so much through words, and yes, maybe studying our own language and being drilled in it can get tiresome, but it is also very vital to know. without education, a society will fall. and english/literature is a big BIG part of that.

    as soon as i saw the title of this post, i knew it would be good. awesome job, jo <3

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    1. Glad you liked it, :)
      I know, right? But I guess it's because our society values math and science more. People who excel in these areas are considered "smart" whereas writers and artists receive less positive comments. It's tiresome, but vital, as you said. You're very articulate, I must say. :)

      Thanks, Autumn. <3

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  15. OH MY GOODNESS.

    I can't even imagine what my life would be like without English and literature. You can't have history without literature. You can't be without literature. Thank you so much for this, Jo!
    ~ Sanjana
    peridotcove.blogspot.com

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    1. Exactly! They go hand in hand. Part of literature is analysing how literature has changed over time. I'm glad you liked it! :)

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  16. There is a lot of things I do like about English (not everything). I do mostly like it but especially the year when I had to study all these things about Lord of The Rings for English! How much better can English study get!

    http://claredot.blogspot.com.au/

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    1. That's actually the best thing ever! :D Last year, the juniors at our school got to study the Hobbit. Lucky. :(

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  17. YES. EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS POST = YES. Art is so so important. Art is how humans express everything...and it's seriously just as important as science and maths and all that. I've got to admit I don't "get" poetry, but I still appreciate it. BECAUSE IT'S ART. Just like I appreciate painting-art and book-art and sculpture-art or anything. I wasn't a big fan of the book Matched, but I think the most interesting part of it was they lived in a society with NO ART. That really hit home for me. Because, omg, talk about a horrible world. :O

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    1. Thanks! :D It should be appreciated but too often it's considered inferior to the sciences in our society. Which is a shame. Wow, I didn't know that about Matched. I just thought it was about some girl who gets "matched" with the 'perfect' guy, only to fall for someone else blah blah...but that's a pretty scary dystopia. In 451 Farenheit, they burnt all books, which was like, WHAT.

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  18. I've never understood why some people think that subjects aren't important just because they aren't interested in them. Can you imagine if everybody just learnt maths and science? The world would be such a bland place, and there would be so much more unemployment seeing as people wouldn't be learning skills in different areas aha!

    The Velvet Black // UK Style & Beauty Blog

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    1. Exactly! I never thought of unemployment, but you're so right: we need diversity to keep this structure operational. :)

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  19. English used to be my favorite subject even if it didn't make sense half the time because it was like that creative break I got after monotonous maths and science. English was that subject where you could do homework and still feel refreshed (so I used it as something to do when I got tired of maths etc).
    I think my favorite parts of english was analyzing novels etc. I only did Animal Farm and Lord of the Flies properly but those were amazing experiences for me.

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    1. Hahaha, I know what you mean. Math and science are all so straightforward that it's nice to get a little creative juice every now and then. Math can be so tiresome, I agree.

      Novels, yes! Wow, Animal Farm would be so nice to analyse as a class. I've done Lord of the Flies by myself but it's just not the same as a class discussion, you know?

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  20. This post was so beautiful! I can't even. So well said Jo! We need more people to realize all the good in the Arts. They are a direct expression of our feelings, culture, and achievements as human beings. It inspires, heals, and teaches us life lessons. It just makes me so irritated when people don't recognize English as an important subject compared to subjects like math. I mean you have to learn english before you can understand a math or science problem right?
    ~Chioma @ Blue Books and Butterflies

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    1. Thank you! Wow, you phrased my thoughts beautifully. English is everywhere, even if it's not in written form. Such as math problems, you're right!

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  21. I LOVE this post! Especially since I really want to do Arts for my higher studies, but my mum is pushing me to take up Science or Commerce streams, since apparently English Literature is "something you can do anyway", meaning I could take it up as a hobby, but not really pursue it as a career :(

    Really, thank you for writing this post and proving why art matters! :D

    Ranu @ The Araliya Bookshelf

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    1. Thanks, Rana! :D Awh, that's a shame. I suppose it is a hobby, but so is nearly every other subject. Plus, hobbies often kead to fantastic careers. :) I heard Commerce is fun, though!

      I wouldn't say proving, but thank you, I'm so glad you liked it!

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  22. Love love love this!
    I don't understand why so many people these days hate English. It is such an important class!

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    1. Thank you. <3
      It absolutely is! Probably because it can be tedious at times. :(

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  23. Ok you are so right that it is annoying. (I don't really like english)

    http://hottowncoolgirl.blogspot.com/

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  24. I'm going to be the voice of dissent. I found English class tedious and irrelevant, made worse by it being mandatory for four years of high school. I learned more about English grammar in French class, more about the type of writing I needed in university and that I do even today in Geography, and more about art appreciation in Music than I did in English.

    For those wondering how someone can hate English class, try this: Imagine the dullest subject you can, doesn't matter if it's a science or history or math. It's dull, it has no relevancy to your current or future plans. Imagine doing the same class year after year, with no change in what's being done. It's the same lesson, covering the same material, not building at all on what was done previously. That was English class for me. Each year, the same thing. Sometimes the play or the novel changed, but what was done to them didn't. The texts used in class, when they changed, didn't get more challenging. They got dull, uninteresting. What I learned in English is that literary fiction, especially the so-called classics, are populated with uninteresting characters who do nothing. I learned that what a poem was trying to say wasn't worth the effort to unpack the meaning. That's not art appreciation; it's the direct opposite.

    I'm not alone. David S. Miall of the University of Alberta has written (http://www.ualberta.ca/~dmiall/MiallPub/Miall_Empower_1996.htm) on what English class is doing to students. Take note of the Chernobyl effect he spells out. He exaggerates, but students are being turned off from literature because of what gets done to it in English class. That paper was written in 1998, and nothing has changed since, as seen in this 2008 Washington Post editorial (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/08/22/AR2008082202398.html?sid=ST2010031901963).

    Maybe it's time to take a hard look at the purpose of English class and whether it needs to be mandatory over four years.

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    1. Looking back on this post after two years of self-reflection, I have to agree with you. I see the same disinterest in literature across all my English classes. That being said, I still stress the important of literature to humanity - to human culture, society, art and self-expression. :)

      I believe modern English classes need reform, but I couldn't agree with this statement of yours, which I assume sums up your feelings about English overall: "I learned that what a poem was trying to say wasn't worth the effort to unpack the meaning. That's not art appreciation; it's the direct opposite." Though it seems counterintuitive, true art appreciation goes beyond the surface level. The Mona Lisa's value doesn't lie in how nice the painting looks, or how precise the brush strokes are. People study and analyse it today because it probably has as much to say about history and humanity as Da Vinci intended. If you find your appreciation of art decreasing the deeper you look, then frankly I think it's more likely that your personal disinterest is devaluing the artwork in your eyes.

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  25. Literature is definitely relevant! Ideas can have so much more impact on the "real" world than we think. Just two weeks ago, I went to Paris and the guide was talking about Notre Dame and how it was in really bad shape when Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame drew public focus to it. Suddenly, people were interested in it and it was renovated and basically the reason it's so pretty today is largely that book. That's just one very materialistic example of course, but things we imagine become real all the time and literary ideas influence our lives and values. All the books I read growing up DEFINITELY influenced who I am and how I act today. English class can be tedious though, I agree.

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    1. I'm glad you think so! Literature can definitely bring attention to past events - one of the reasons I love analysing it! Humanity's capacity for self-reflection peaks at good literature. I also agree it can be tedious. :')

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  26. THIS. Thank you for this gorgeous and awesome post! Perfectly describes why literature is important!


    Alexa
    thessalexa.blogspot.com
    verbositybookreviews.wordpress.com

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    1. Wow, thanks for your generous comment!

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  27. Well it would be awesome if the English taught at my school was like that, nowadays all we do is ANALYSE. Also the beauty and fun are completely sucked out of it all, if you're writing a poem or short story, you must meet certain credentials. If you don't they tell you it's, "Not good enough".

    Peace!

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    1. Yeah, I absolutely agree with you there! English class is nowhere near Dead Poets Society level. Definitely needs working on.

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  28. What a ridiculous post. Do you really think that Shakespeare contributed as much to humanity as Einstein? Einstein gave us lasers, GPS, satellites and knowledge. Shakespeare gave us a couple of overwrought stories about 2 dimensional characters and ridiculous plots. Science and math are far more important to humanity, simply because without them your precious artists would still be huddled in caves scratching their armpits.

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    1. Sorry to hear you didn't enjoy the post - and congratulations for commenting on this post two years after it was made, during which STEM subjects became more valued, personal opinions were shifted, and a certain someone probably failed English class. Only joking! :')

      Though these days I think there's something wrong with English classes, I still maintain the belief that literature and arts are just as valuable to society as science and math. Of course, there was a time when science was much more important to humanity simply because we prioritised survival - caveman times is a good example.

      Now, let's think bout what's happened since. Like it or not, everything you do and think is a by-product of written works. The way you speak and the thoughts you have are not new and they're certaintly not original. What you know about love, revenge, tragedy, grief, death - all of your personal beliefs on these ideas that didn't come from your own experiences came from someone else. Picture a million artists collectively sharing a brain, a network through which they can gain a greater, universal understanding of fundamental human concepts. This network is literature. It's art. And those writers like Shakespeare have distilled their collective thoughts across history, into mass media, into people themselves. So the irony is that, no matter how much you reject literature in your own life, your earliest ideas of love were formulated from Shakespeare's pen. So finally, I challenge your definition of 'ridiclous'. I think the real ridiculousness is your passionate defence of lasers, GPS and satellites, and your equally passionate hatred of the very words you write, the thoughts you think, and the emotions you yourself feel.

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    2. Paralleling the oft-repeated line of obnoxious atheists everywhere: I don't need Shakespeare to tell me how morality works. An understanding of love, revenge, tragedy - they're all to a great extent innate, and you've definitely got your cause and effect backwards when you claim that our "our earliest ideas of love were formulated from Shakespeare's pen". The bigger problem, however, is that you seem to confuse literature with language. If Oxford's 2015 word of the year has shown us anything, it is that they are not at all the same. Finally, we don't further our understanding of "fundamental human concepts" through this ridiculous "network of artists", we do it through philosophy. Art is art, and although it's an invaluable medium for expressing and exploring any idea or concept at all, Shakespeare's works aren't going to help as much as Einstein's, except perhaps when it comes to English classes, which I am actually failing, by the way. :(

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    3. I think you may have confused morality and language with abstract ideas. When I talk about our ideas of love, revenge and tragedy formulating from Shakespeare's pen, I don't mean that Shakespeare literally defined our understanding of these things. Of course these things are innate. Of course love existed long before Shakespeare had the audacity to include it in his works.

      So what did I mean by what I said? I mean that Shakespeare echoes our personal ideas of love. Art doesn't define emotions, but they do echo them and increase our understanding of them over time. Where did you get your idea of love? Was it merely through personal experience and innate feelings? Only through philosophy? Somehow, I doubt that you weren't influenced by mass media – which in turn was influenced by earlier forms of literature and entertainment such as Shakespeare – like the rest of us.

      I think you said it best. Art is indeed "an invaluable medium for expressing and exploring any idea or concept". I didn't claim that art defined our emotions, or that it somehow created morality or literature. That would be ludicrous! I DID claim that art passes on our understanding of emotions, which has an invaluable effect on our morality, language, culture and society.

      Finally, your statement that Shakespeare's works are not as helpful or important as Einstein's: how can we truly quantify the value of one writer over one (awesome) scientist? How can we measure the importance of writers and scientists in general, without knowing the entirety or scope of their effects on humanity? Unless we can answer this question, people doth protest too bodly. ;)

      Thank you for taking the time for writing a long reply, and I hope you get better in English!

      Delete

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