Gerald Graff’s “Hidden Intellectualism” seeks to define ways in which teachers can bridge the gap between students’ different intellectual spheres: “street smarts” and “book smarts.” Graff holds a convincing argument as he makes the claim that all students have intellectual “book smart” capacity, only it is all too often stifled in today’s academic and sometimes authoritarian climate: “inside every street-smart student (which is to say, every student) there is a latent intellectual trying to break out” (246). He rightly points out that academic intellectual capacity is often correlated with the ability to make an argumentative claim and substantiate that claim with logical and fact-based evidence.
The irony is that argument as discourse is not only discouraged in the classroom, but it is all but stifled: “argumentativeness is often viewed by schools as a form of troublemaking or “acting out” rather than as apprentice intellectualism” (246). In his essay, Graff uses his own personal background as part of his argument, lending a personal and humanist feel to the essay. He uses sports metaphors from his own background to show how his sports passion fueled his interest in argument and discourse. He draws a parallel between the challenges he saw occurring in the sports world—“rival theories of why they should be read and taught, and team competitions in which partisans or ‘fans’ of one writer, intellectual system, methodology…contended with those of others” (250)—and those found in the classroom.
He adeptly critiques his own schooling for failing to find this parallel and others like it to bridge the gap between “philistine” pursuits and academic ones. He remarks that “Schooling certainly did little to encourage or channel my intellectualism” (251) and that schooling all too often devolves into rote memorization for tests and involves more passive learning than active interaction, a fact that is ironically underscored by the common understanding that students are more likely to benefit and retain information from active learning. Ultimately, Graff argues for change in an academic climate that seems resistant to it. He uses case studies from his own students, labeling them by initials only, “T.E.,” for example to show how it is possible to entice the intellectual out of even the most resistant students.
- Graff, Gerald. “Hidden Intellectualism.” They Say / I Say. Ed. Gerald Graff. W.W. Norton &
Company. 244-51. Print.