A Review of Hidden Intellectualism, an Essay by Gerald Graff

This rhetorical device was very persuasive, because it illustrated Graff’s childhood and how intellectualism played a part in his childhood. When Graff was a child, he lived in an area where street-smart children that lacked book smarts-referred to as “hoods”-were prevalent. In order to assimilate in his community, Graff had to show that his street smarts out weighted his academic knowledge. In his community, being too book smart translated to “putting on airs” and lead to not being accepted by the “hoods”. Graff worked to avoid any interest in literary works such as Shakespeare, so he would not seem too smart.

But, he actively read sports magazines and other “street” forms of literature, causing a growth of his knowledge and literacy more than he ever knew. “I was practicing being an intellectual before I knew that was what I wanted to be” (Graff 383). Graff’s diction in this essay is very emotive. He strongly believes that intellectualism is not only defined as being book smart, and I agree with him. You can still gain literary skills byreading current magazines or other forms of current literature. Because these sport magazines entertained Graff’s youth mind, he retained more literary knowledge than in school.

This is due to the fact that minds must be entertained to learn and retain information. By being knowledgeable on sports, Graff was able to partake in arguments and debates with others on the topic. This gave him a deeper level over understanding literacy, as well as improved his conceptual skills. Schooling typically only requires reading, creating summaries, and regurgitating information. For children who excel more in “street-smarts”, I believe that is not enough to give them a fair education. Street-smart children learn better through real world situations. I agree with Graff in that children that are street-smart do not lack intellectualism, but just learn in ways that differ from standard schooling. For example, sports literature requires not only reading the material, but also understanding it on a level deep enough to articulate opinions and participate in debates.

Sports also require memorizing and interpreting statistics, arming one with the evidence needed to argue and defend the relevance of his/her favorite player. I stand in strong affirmation of Graff’s idea that street smarts satisfy the intellectual thirst of a youth’s mind more than standard schooling does, due to the fact that street smarts are applicable to everyone, not just classmates. Graff argues that having street smarts gives one an upper hand in one’s community. If one is only literate in schoolwork, then one’s discussions are only applicable to their classmates. Having these street smarts add an extra level of knowledge, even though it is not perceived in that way. I firmly agree with Graff in that street smarts satisfy the thirst for community. “When you entered sports debates, you became part of a community that was not limited to your family and friends” (Graff 384).

I also agree with this point. If one is to have a conversation with the average community member, the conversation is more likely to involve current events and media related topics. Being able to discuss at length the underlying themes of a Shaksperean play is great, but only for a classroom setting. Outside of an educational atmosphere, these types of conversations are irrelevant. For example, Graff discusses how sports and sports related topics applied to all people in his community, from when he was a child up until now into his adulthood. Being able to have discussions with various people leads to better conversations, thus creating better conversational skills.

I believe, as does Graff, that conversational skills are essential to literacy because they develop verbal skills. Being literate and intellectual is often seen as synonymous with an academic education, when actually literacy is not that limited. The real world is a competition unlike schooling has ever taught. Graff explains that competition in school primarily consisted of grade grubbing, memorization, and “oneupmanship” to earn the student points. Graff makes a compelling argument regarding this point by using the rhetorical strategy of evidence by example. He gives the example that sports competition brings points through debates, and closeness with the community.

In the real world, one cannot succeed through the practice of one-upmanship. I believe that one must create their own thoughts and opinions, and argue them when challenged to do so. Graff points out that schools have distanced themselves from the real world, and this distance is why children with street smarts do not excel in a traditional school environment. For schooling to be successful, it must interest all of the students. I agree that schools need to integrate different ways of learning. Throughout elementary and high school, I found that I had great difficulty with learning basic literary skills, because we students were forced to read boring essays that did not interest us. The teachers seemed to be more interested in the type of literature, than whether or not the students were retaining and literary intellect. “…

Schools and colleges are missing an opportunity when they do not encourage students to take their nonacademic interests as objects of academic study” (Graff 386). The type of literature does not matter, as long as proper literary techniques are being applied to it. Graff believes that children do need schooling to sharpen their analytical and literal knowledge, but he also argues that schools must step up to the plate and try to interest all of their students equally, in order to give all students a great wealth of literary knowledge. The idea of hidden intellectualism in students is that everyone is unique in their style of learning. I agree with Graff that literary skills are necessary for intellectualism, but these skills do not have a set way of being learned. If a student is not excelling in standard schooling, it does not mean that the student lacks intellect. Many students are more street-smart than book smart, so they learn more literary skills effeciantly through current literature and media. Street smart require as much intellect, if not more, as standard schooling. Graff shows that intellect comes in a variety of forms, and schools need to use a variety of means to tap into the varying intellects of street-smart and book smart students.

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