Many students oppose to literature courses as part of their fundamental training program in secondary and post-secondary schools. While it is true that literature by itself is a very restricted category of professional career, we must also appreciate its extended impact on society and its importance in shaping a culturally well-balanced, mentally sound individual citizen.
From a metaphysical point of view, literature, including poetry, novels, and play scripts such as those produced by Shakespeare, can be thought of as a microcosm of the real world. Not only does it reflect the spatially extended world, it also encodes many of the key moments in human history over the past 4000 years. The more one reads into this rich source of human recording, the better one can be expected to appreciate his own living environment and avoid many of the mistakes that our predecessors made. In this respect, a refined collection of literary works could edify the moral character of an entire society, as repeatedly demonstrated by the ancient Japanese and Chinese societies. The adoption of the confucius teaching as the moral and legal creed in ancient China since the Han dynasty greatly simplified the government’s task at encouraging civilized behavior among its variegated citizens. Although the major texts in confucianism consist of authentic recordings of dialogues between the master and his students, it nevertheless has been polished by the authors, who inevitably modified the original texts based on his own interpretation of the language. Another incisive example is furnished by the popularity of a single text in western culture, the Holy bible. Again despite its historical nature, the bible contains many vivid account of short stories, especially in the new testaments. These highly decorated literary gems not only edified the readers’ aesthetic sense, but also taught them how to behave in an acceptable fashion, namely by a constantly willingness of spread love among their fellow humans. In both the confucius teaching and the bible, a general theme emerges: the establishment of a morally perfect paragon to whom the average people must emulate. In this manner, society tends towards orderliness and harmony, without constantly application of the force of militant laws.
From a more pragmatic point of view, literature also supplements disciplines that seem at first totally obviating the need of aesthetic and moral appreciation. The increasing need of creative ability in the scientific community can be easily ameliorated by a more fortified training in literary skills. Many classical texts, including on the light side Anderson’s fairy tales, to more political pungent Gulliver’s travel, animal farms, contain an almost inexhaustible lode of imaginative gems, some of which even employ plausible scientific reasoning. the proliferation of science fictions nowadays can also contribute immensely to inspire the hard-minded scientists and engineers in their regular mental functions.
Great scientists are often characterized by their unique ability to sell their theories to the general public through vivid literary analogies. Einstein permanently impressed his jocular character in the public’s mind by making his famous laymen’s explication of the relativity theory. Many scientific model often had to rely on more accessible objects to present itself in a clear fashion. The ability to associate such rigid matters with more concrete phenomena familiar to a wider range of audience is commonly attributed to a well acculturated mind.
A lot of critics of current educational policy might be tempted to argue that many hard sciences do not require any literary background. The more contentious of them might even insist that the infusion of literary ideas to scientifically oriented minds could potentially create a sense of confusion, undermining the individual’s inborn talent at logical deductive capability. Indeed the mode of thinking in literary subjects are entirely different from those employed by say the pure mathematicians. But they are not totally severed from each other, since both require a sound logical argument behind boldly stated assertions. In effect, many highly successful mathematicians started off their career as devout English major. Virtually all of them are more than competent in their early verbal education in grade schools; and many of them surpassed their peers in the acquisitions of language skills. Von Neumann, the child prodigy and father of modern computer science and many other branches of mathematics, had reportedly mastered three or four languages at the age of seven, and was able to exchange jokes with his father in Greek when he was merely five. Fields like visual arts and music require even more literary faculty than the hard science, since the interpretive side of artistic produce is largely accomplished by written words. The artists themselves often also obtain inspirations from literary work, as best exemplified by composers of musical plays. Beethoven had to be thoroughly familiar with Shakespeare’s work in order to write his immortal Tempest sonata. The recurring choice of Dr. Faustus as the storyline for musical work also suggest that composers have been greatly influenced by themes and characters in their reading experience. Visual arts extract much of its content from biblical stories, such as the famous Last Supper of Da Vinci and Michaelangelos’ Creation. If there is anything that’s totally indispensible to the artistic community, it is arguably the literary allusions and raw materials that have been constantly borrowed, consciously or subconsciously, by the untold generations of great maestrosos.
In-depth training of literary appreciation are not only beneficial to the overall advancement of humanity, it also inspires generations of professionals in other fields with its unique attributes of imagination and elocution. The contribution it has on the artistic creation is hardly fathomable, but it also made the science and technology more accessible to the less specialized groups who are the ultimate benefactors of those research work anyways. It is therefore consistent with good social policy to incorporate literary eduction into the general curricula of all majors, regardless of its immediate relevance to their specialized objectives.