Gensburg: An English class for non-majors

This week many of you have undoubtedly been searching for that one course you need to take to make it through the year. That one course that fulfills that one requirement you know in your heart is good for you but which you nevertheless can’t stand to complete.

Some of us search endlessly for that simplest of courses that miraculously qualifies as science. But as astonishing as it may be, there are others here at Yale who find themselves looking for one of those two colleges courses they will ever take in the humanities.

Suppose I am one such student, and this semester I have decided to take my one-course dip into the vast field of English. The first question that arises is whether I want to take a class focused on literature or composition. It seems a shame that, by making this choice, I am forced to forever give up the other option, as I don’t really enjoy English courses enough to take both variants.

But I make my choice, I come to the first section of class and I find myself surrounded by freshmen and sophomores for whom this class is but the first of many. When the professor makes one of his numerous references to books we will all read in later courses, I know that date will never come for me. I struggle to complete the readings of so-called great novels, and constantly wonder why the authors don’t simply come out and say what they mean.

So why isn’t there an English course for me and my peers?

I can imagine it now. I think I’d call it English 110. The course would focus on reading a variety of different authors and styles. Perhaps each week would focus on a different period or style. Novels take too long to fit allow such a variety, so many times we would confine our study of an author to a single short story, or perhaps two. The class wouldn’t presume that its members would read the entire Western canon in college, and therefore wouldn’t find it wrong to use selections from other works as appropriate.

The class would integrate lessons on how authors achieve various effects, and would perhaps have a creative writing assignment or two. Perhaps there would be a few short in-class writing assignments, requiring students to articulate their ideas on the required reading.

Why isn’t it this simple? Doesn’t the fact that I wouldn’t take English if Yale didn’t force me to mean that it’s unfair to make me do in-depth analysis and truly understand a particular idea? I don’t really want to step out of my comfort zone and truly delve into a type of thinking I wouldn’t normally use. And shouldn’t students who don’t have an interest in deep study of a field be able to see the entire breadth of the field? Many departments at Yale have come to accept this; why hasn’t the English department?

Some people just weren’t born to study English.

Sam Gensburg is a sophomore in Saybrook College.

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