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Gerald Graff - Hidden Intellectualism

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        Gerald Graff: “Hidden Intellectualism” A Reader’s Response

In Gerald Graff’s essay “Hidden Intellectualism,” he details how the current education system fails to recognize a large majority of students by being unable to tap into the intelligent designs of their passions.  Graff frames his essay by detailing his time growing up as a boy in the melting pot of Post World War II Chicago, where being intellectual and excited about learning was not a popular attitude. “The hoods would turn on you if you if they sensed you were putting on airs over them…  I grew up torn, then, between the need to prove I was smart and the fear of a beating if I proved it too well…  For a boy in my neighborhood and elementary school, only being ‘tough’ earned you complete legitimacy (199-200).”  Graff’s personal story is seemingly out-of-date yet oddly relevant and universal in its themes.  On one hand I wholeheartedly agree with Graff, there are many young students in the world that have “Hidden Intellectualism” and passions that can translate productively into the modern classroom.  However, on the other hand, the rest of Graff’s essay falls flat for me.  He begins by blaming teachers and schools for their failure of students with hidden potential, but does not follow through with any substantial argument, only to flip his position by implying that hormonal teenaged students should be responsible for having the clarity to realize their own potential.  Overall Graff’s ideas are solid, but he fails to build upon it in meaningful ways.

        I agree with Graff on the main concept of his essay, that there are many different types of intelligence that the education system does not implement in the modern classroom. There are an endless amount of types of intelligence and passion; street smarts, physical intelligence, emotional intelligence, and the list goes on and on.  Graff does a great job explaining how a student's passion can be interpreted into the classroom.  “Inviting students to write about cars, sports, or clothing fashions does not have to be a pedagogical cop-out as long as students are required to see these ‘through academic eyes,’ that is, to think and write about cars, sports, and fashion magazines in a reflective, analytical way, one that sees them as microcosms of what is going on in a wider culture (204).”  

Unfortuantaly, Graff’s main theme in “Hidden Intellectualism” is the only one of his ideas that I agree with.  What bothered me the about his argument, is how he implies, over the course of the essay that the implementation of one’s hidden intelligence and passion is mostly contingent on a student’s self-awareness. The same type of moment of self clarity that Graff talks about, how his lifetime love of sports and how it helped him relate it to modern intellectual constructs.  “It was in these discussions with friends about toughness and sports, I think, and in my reading of sports books and magazines, that I began to learn the rudiments of the intellectual life…  I experienced what it felt like to propose a generalization, restate and respond to a counterargument, and perform other intellectualizing operations (201-202).”  Graff’s story might be relevant, but he clearly does not understand students other than himself.  Not every underachieving, sports obsessed, hormone-raging teenager is able to implement their passion with the same kind of self clarity and diction that Graff can.  In my personal experience, many of the types of students that Graff is talking about, whose passions do not fit in with the traditional mold of the education system are not its best students.  They are the rejects and misfits and students who are mostly ambivalent to academic success.  They have vast amounts of hidden potential, but very few are able to self actualize that potential while they still have the opportunity.  This is what brings me to the other aspect of Graff’s essay that I do not agree with.

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