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Hidden Intellectualism: an Ability to Learn

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Everyone has the ability to learn. Some show more academic prowess than others, but does that necessarily mean that those less academically inclined are “anti-intellectuals”? According to Gerald Graff’s essay “Hidden Intellectualism”, by students viewing their interests through an “academic eye” and connecting them to their schoolwork is in fact “intellectualism by other means”. This means that by viewing the academic side of their interests and applying it to their schoolwork, students are not wasting their time doing anti-intellectual subject but training to be intellectuals. Now, why don’t they teach children how to do this in school? If teaching kids that their interests have educational value can teach them the importance of general education, why don’t they teach things many kids today are interested in? Like knowledge of cars, Major League Baseball statistics, blogging, beat boxing, or even cheesemaking? A question asked by Graff in his essay would better suffice. “Are schools and colleges at fault for missing the opportunity to tap into these street smarts and channel them into academic work?” (435)

Graff draws on his own experience as a child and how his own interests lead him to become a renowned professor of English. As a child, he enjoyed sports. From reading sports magazines, watching games, keeping up with his favorite player’s stats, and talking to his friends about who’s the strongest player. Later in his life, he realized the he found sports more interesting than school not because schoolwork was boring and sports was entertaining but because sports is more intellectually challenging, not less. Sports are filled with challenging arguments debates, statistics, and problems for analysis that he cared for and school wasn’t. Proposed anti-intellectual subjects can be more intellectually challenging than school due to an interest in said subject. If Graff had connected his love for sports to his schoolwork at a younger age his career could have turned out drastically different. Sports introduced him to a world of arguments and debates he loved to take part in. Arguments and debates that he and his friends would regularly get into. To Graff, sports taught him how to make an argument, weigh different kinds of evidence, summarize the views of other’s, enter conversations about ideas, and other “intellectualizing operations” and I believe it played a huge part in him becoming an English professor. ‘I was practicing being an intellectual before I knew that was what I wanted to be.” (437)

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That leads me into primary education in schools across the United States. At the age of six children begin their primary education in elementary school. The curriculum consists of basic communication skills, English proficiency, basic math principles, as well as the educational benchmark set by each individual state. Now, which state’s educational benchmark has set children up for success and which state’s set more up for failure? According to the USA TODAY website, Massachusetts leads the country in pre-k-12 education and Nevada follows at the back of the line. With an 87.5% high school graduation rate and a whopping $14,500 spent on their public schools, Massachusetts takes a hefty lead. According to the educational benchmark set by Lexington Public Schools in MS for grades K-5, the children are taught how to use data and results to “evaluate themselves and their problems”. In other words, they’re explicitly taught self-reflection and, at such an early age, they’re taught to analyze their individual, as well as collective, interests. Not only are they teaching children how to identify their individual practices but the interests of their peers. Now, public schools in Massachusetts take advantage of their student’s interests and help them guide those interests towards academic work which increases their proficiency in the subject they learn in school but the same can’t be said for other states.

Of course, the main purpose for all schools in every country, state, or region is to teach children and set them up for success, not failure. The only problem is that some schools do this better than others and those that are subpar do not conform to working curriculums set by the best of the best. Most schools, but not all, are at fault for missing the opportunity to teach their students that their interests matter in the world of academia. Students that don’t learn this at an early age, like those in Nevada, are subject to low proficiency in basic studies like math and English. Massachusetts is an excellent example for schools that teach Graff’s idea of Hidden Intellectualism – “Street smarts,” or hobbies and interests, “are not anti-intellectual but intellectualism by other means.” (436)

Now that we know why public schools are at fault for missing the untapped mine of street smarts, let’s look at colleges and universities. More specifically the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. If a university failed to teach their students that their interests have academic weight, their graduates would have spent years in school and thousands of dollars for a degree they have no idea how to use. The case of universities is not that same as public schools. Classes are chosen by the students except for the basics they need to continue along the path of learning. This allows students to naturally look at their interests or hobbies through an academic eye. Looking at successful graduates and their chosen majors, I can conclude that many universities like UNLV do not miss the opportunity to tap into their student’s intelligence. Since every student can choose their majors, they can excel at what they find interesting and can become successful in their preferred field rather than what they’re told is fundamentally “intellectual”.

To accurately judge if UNLV graduates have followed their interests and have become successful because of them, I reached out to a few past alumni but received no response, so I’ve relied on extensive research. Notable alumni that I decided to conduct my research on included Ryan Higa, Guy Ferry, Marion “Suge” Knight Jr. So, are university graduates successful and is their current profession related to their chosen majors? Guy Ferry, also known as Guy Fieri, is a world-renowned restaurateur and was nominated three separate times for a Structured Reality Program Emmy in 2014, 2015, and in September of 2019. He’s also a perfect example of university alumni that have succeeded in life due to their choice of major. He currently co-owns three restaurants in California, hosts multiple series on the Food Network, and he’s leased his name to restaurants in New York City and Las Vegas, Nevada. In 2010 he was even the subject of an article in The New York Times saying “-his props and costumes evoke a hard-core rebelliousness, his persona is friendly and jovial, serving up a solid helping of American family values with a garnish of patriotism.” He graduated from UNLV with a Bachelor of Science in Hospitality Management in 1990. His television series “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” features Guy visiting diners, drive-in restaurants, and dive bars across America. He eats food served at these establishments and films the cooking process in a type of restaurant review. Guy’s Bachelor of Science plays huge roll in his success because, according to the UNLV website, a Bachelor of Science in Hospitality Management includes a 22-credit elective requirement and that allows the student to “customize their educational experience based on their personal interest…” Guy Fieri is not only incredibly successful but world renowned and is loved by millions of his viewers and his chosen major does play a part in his success.

Based on Guy Fieri’s success alone, it’s plain to see that universities like the University of Nevada, Las Vegas take student’s interests into consideration when guiding them along the path of higher education. Graff is not entirely correct in his statement “If I’m write, schools and colleges are missing the opportunity when they do not encourage students to take their nonacademic interests as objects of academic study.” He’s partially correct because there are schools that do include children’s interests in their education, like the elementary schools of Massachusetts, and in doing so increases their student’s understanding of subjects as showed by their much higher graduation rate than other states. And, he’s also incorrect because colleges and universities are designed so that students design their own curriculum based on their own personal interests. Yes, most schools miss the chance to tap into children’s intelligence, but colleges and universities don’t.

While introducing his argument, Graff uses the word “we” in the first-person plural. It begged the question; who is this “we”? Did he mean society as a whole? Or, since he’s professor, did he mean the education system? I’ve settled on the audience being everyone. Humanity. We humans have a very loose understanding of what intelligence is. Picturing an intelligent individual, you’ll find yourself thinking about Sherlock Holmes, many politicians, lawyers, maybe even Iron Man. But being skilled in tasks inherently unacademic like television series, the names of the Kardashians, and types of meats that go in a taco is just a waste of time because there’s no discernible use of that knowledge in everyday life. But in a certain rhetorical situation, knowledge of the Kardashians could prove useful. While a doctor would have no use of that information, a blogger that works for E! Network would need to keep up with the lives of Kendall, Kylie, and Kim. There is an academic side to every subject based on the rhetorical situation the knowledge can be used in and Graff does a good job in explaining this.

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