Most students in general education literature courses aren't pursuing an English major. They may never read another work of literature again. So it's a given that the course will not directly contribute to their major. What then is the relevance and use of the course?
For future majors, it would be relevant to have an idea about literary movements and to become familiar with specialized vocabulary and forms of literary analysis. This does need to be a part of the class, but it is relatively minor.
For all students:
- it's useful to improve their reading and writing skills. Even technical majors need to be able to communicate verbally. Reading closely improves the ability to pay attention to detail (sensing skills) and makes students more aware of the nuances of language (intuitive skills).
- it's useful to improve their critical thinking skills. What are the implications of the behavior of characters in various situations? What sort of logic do characters and speakers use? How can you identify the subtext and assumptions?
- it's probably most relevant to gain insight into the human experience. What does it feel like to grow up, to grow old, to be an outsider, to be an insider, to be in love, to mourn, to struggle, to sacrifice? What would we do in similar situations? This is what I feel should be the major thrust of any gen-ed literature course.