On “Hidden Intellectualism” by Gerald Graff

Gerald Graff’s essay, “Hidden Intellectualism”, argues for the convergence of “street smarts” of students and the school classroom.  Asserting that these street smarts “…go untapped by formal schooling”, Graff states that student’s interests are identified as anti-intellectual and teachers ignore the potential that lays in students discourse about areas of interest them.  “To emerge as critical theory, street smarts have to undergo transformation. Students who become intellectuals are inventing a new identity as much as unearthing one that was already there.”

In Graff’s opening paragraphs, he writes about Michael Warner, who made a “… improbable journey from an upbringing in a Christian Pentecostal family and graduation from Oral Roberts University to his current identity as a ‘queer atheist intellectual.’ ”  A quote from Warner’s book that really struck home with me was, “Curiously enough, fundamentalism is almost universally regarded as the stronghold and dungeon-keep of American anti-intellectualism, religious culture gave me a passionate intellectual life of which universities are only a pale ivory shadow.”  Since I attended a Presbyterian high school, I can really relate to Warner’s experience.  To me, it would be more probable for argument and debate about religion or any topic to be encouraged at public schools.  However, my high school taught us right away, starting with our logic class in ninth grade, that argument is not a negative term.  The questioning of lessons and discussions between the students and teacher were promoted through classes such as rhetoric and debate, and by the teachers themselves.  Other schools may see argument and discourse as a threat, giving students the implication that argument is a terrible occurrence.  As Graff says, “Our tendency to see argument as a form of violence rather than an alternative to violence helps explain why the studious avoidance of open conflict is such a prominent feature of the American high school and often the college and university.”  Curiosity is natural to humans; so why is it that young children are being reprimanded in school for asking “why?”  Sometimes, fact just isn’t enough; we want evidence!

I wholeheartedly agree with Graff’s premise that the street smarts of students can be channeled to teach students how to be intellectuals in book smarts as well.  However, I believe that there must be a healthy balance of these street smarts and book smarts, not just in students, but in all people.  I would like to know if Graff would agree with me on this.  In everyday conversation in the real world, street smarts are needed to have conversations with new people and be social.  Balance is a very important aspect of life, so to me it makes sense that a charming and intriguing person would embody both a scholar and, for example, a sports fanatic, a video game expert, or a movie connoisseur.

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One response to “On “Hidden Intellectualism” by Gerald Graff

  1. SRMeehan

    You have a good start with your summary of the article, a good synthesis. I would like to hear a bit more about what you mean by balance–and whether you see Graff’s argument as promoting balance or lacking it, in other words, elaborate whether that is a place you agree or disagree with his view.

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