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The rhetor of this essay is Gerald Graff, and he is trustworthy because he is a professor of English and Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. In addition to that, he is a past president of the Modern Language Association, the world’s largest professional association of university scholars and teachers. In the essay titled “Hidden Intellectualism,” I believe the likely audiences Graff is targeting are the Board of Education and teachers of all grade levels. Graff uses rhetorical devices to argue that students academic performance would rise if the school authorities give their students the benefit of the doubt to pursue their interests through the academic eye. With this, Graff believes that students would gradually develop their writing and critical thinking skills regardless of whether or not they are book smart or street smart. His observation, of the educational institutions, leads him to believe that the school systems are missing the golden opportunity to tap into their student’s core intelligence so that learning would be made easier and more engaging. I, personally, believe that this essay is kairos because it’s an issue that needs immediate attention. Lack of appealing topics leads to lack of concentration during lecture. Moreso, students would be discouraged if they can’t fully exercise their freedom to learn whatever they want through the forum that’s best for them. Since the students have no say-so in the decision-making process of what should be on the curriculum, the approach that teachers are using to teach them does nothing good but distance students from wanting to pursue their education. However, this is what Graff’s essay hopes to, perhaps, address. Hopefully, the board of education would hear the students plead and make amendments as soon as possible.
Graff uses pathos to distinguish those that are book smart from those that are street smart. He writes, “What a waste, we think, that one who is so intelligent about so many things in life seems unable to apply that intelligence to academic work.” (p. 264). The fact that he uses the phrase “What a waste” implies that people classify those that are street smart as good for nothing human being. The way the author phrase this makes it seems like street smart is a disposable form of intelligence that doesn’t compare to being book smart. Another way to look at this is by considering that street smart individual is perceived to lack certain qualities that a book smart individual possess. The difference is also clear that there is a division between the two because a street smart individual can’t diversify his knowledge into other avenues that relate to academic work. Furthermore, the negative connotation that derives from this entire quote shows that since street smart doesn’t amount to what the society expects, being book smart is more acceptable than the other. I believe that the author is able to effectively get a reaction out of the audience because it allows readers to question why the author would choose to call a certain type of intelligence a waste just because it doesn’t conform to the intellectual identities the society expects.
Graff also stresses the point that there are other occasions where being both book smart and street smart can be a matter of peace and war. He starts by separating himself from the lower class communities that he is surrounded by. To later admitting that “….it was good to be openly smart in a bookish sort of way” (p. 266). Because of his status and upbringing, he has a reputation and pride to build. However, he has to watch his surroundings because he lives in the midst of sharks. He illustrated that “In the Chicago neighborhood I grew up in….it was necessary to maintain the boundary between “clean-cut” boys like [himself] and working-class “hoods,” as [him and his middle-class counterparts] called them” (p. 265-266). Graff purposely chose to incorporate this element in his essay to set a distinction between his socioeconomic status as a middle class, heterosexual male, compared to those who were impacted by WWII. He describes growing up in a melting pot, which symbolizes a lower income geographical location where a diverse group of people from different cultures, races, and ethnicities dominate. Due to his middle-class status, not everybody in his community appreciates the fact that he benefits from the middle-class privilege. For example, he lives in a gated community, where the crime rate is at its lowest, and where his safety is highly guaranteed. However, he is constantly conscious of his surroundings because he knows that the moment he steps out of his comfort zone, his safety is in jeopardy.
To buttress his point through the use of pathos, he further explains the emotional toll of not been able to exercise his intellectual abilities had on him. It got to a point he was at a crossroad of whether to prove his intelligence or capitulate by behaving in the way the society wants him to behave. Back in those days, kids that were deemed geeky or nerdy were seen as a threat to the extent that they were verbally abused, violated and attacked. The concept of having someone else who is nerdier than those that are not is unfathomable and it leads nowhere else than to fight over territory, dominance, self-respect, and dignity. It becomes something the individual has to earn. Another option for him was “…to be inarticulate, carefully hiding telltale marks of literacy like correct grammar and pronunciation.” (p. 266). To me, I believe is the result of an emotional breakdown of not knowing how to handle the situation wisely. However, the only alternative he is good at was to involve himself in argumentative “…discussions with friends about toughness and sports.” (p. 267). With this, he is able to sharpen his understanding of how to “…propose a generalization, restate and respond to a counterargument, and perform other intellectualizing operations.” (p. 267). His ability to code switch and channel his intelligence towards other avenue is what draws him to the academic world of literacy.
Graff uses another rhetorical device called, ethos, by sharing his own personal anecdote of how he transitioned from been book smart to balancing it with his street smart. Readers are prone to trust him because he is a living testimony of what he is preaching. Due to the fact that he lives in a community where “….it was necessary to maintain the boundary between “clean-cut” boys like [himself] and working-class “hoods,” as [the middle class] called them….,” he is set apart from all other kids in town that aren’t of his race, which would make him a point of target no matter where he walks or the path he takes (p. 266). While I must admit that it takes a man with a lot of courage to stand firm despite what life was throwing at him, he didn’t let any of them distract him from pursuing his interest. He is also credible because he stands firms to his opinion. He believes that “ Students do need to read models of intellectually challenging writing….if they are to become intellectuals themselves,” (p.265). Nevertheless, he counter-argues that, indeed, a young person who is street smart “…would be more prone to take on intellectual identities if [the teachers] encouraged [the students] to do so at first on subjects that interest them rather than ones that interest [the teachers].” (p. 265). In short, Graff is not disputing the fact that those that are street smart aren’t academically smart as well. He asserts that teachers have to devise a mechanism to engage them and help students channel their focus in their learning endeavors. In other words, he is insisting that the only way to get student hooked on learning is by coming down to the students level. Asking a student to dissect a book written around the 1600s would be hard for some. However, if a teacher presents his or her lesson plan in a way that is satisfying to the students, the student would be more than willing to participate and become more active in the class activities. In my opinion, these students come from different walks of life; however, they have a lot of unique qualities to bring to the table. All that is required is for the teacher to captivate their attention in other to make the learning environment fun, easier and engaging. With this, students can turn their interest into a profitable use in their academic worlds.
With the use of logos, he was able to comment that “ Real intellectuals turn any subject, however lightweight it may seem, into grist for their mill through the thoughtful questions they bring to it, whereas a dullard will find a way to drain the interest out of the richest subject.” (p. 265). In other words, real intellectuals are gifted with the ability to think critically and lead a concrete discussion without biting around the bush. On the other hand, a dullard would just turn the entire atmosphere to a boring one just from their input alone. This quote is directly claiming that dullards make any conversation they join boring by killing the vibe, as they would call it. To the point that participants are not intrigued to join the conversation because it’s not as challenging as they would want it to be. This is a strong quality of real intellectuals, and they can build up a whole argument out of one single topic without any prior knowledge on the topic. He further expands on this idea by claiming that “Making students’ nonacademic interests an object of academic study is useful, then for getting students’ attention and overcoming their boredom and alienation” (p. 269). In other words, an interesting topic would prevent students from falling asleep in class or be distracted while the teacher is teaching. If the entire classroom is uninterested in what the teacher is teaching, then there is no point in teaching it. I’ve personally experienced this before when one of my old teachers tried to get the entire class to read the book called Hamlet. Due to how intricate the book was set up, students were automatically turned away. However, my teacher made us act out the play in our classroom setting. That is what I call learning. Being free in a learning atmosphere where the way a lesson is taught makes the student want to learn more is a tangible point that all teachers need to ensure they have in their class culture. Or else, having students sit in class listening to a boring content that has nothing to do with youths of their time period won’t change the students writing or communication skills. As a matter of fact, the trajectory of the class would dwindle due to lack of interest.
In conclusion, I believe that we all are equally book smart and street smart in multiple areas. While some are eloquent in one aspect, others are creative and knowledgeable in the other aspect. There might be a geographical boundary, but one thing I know for a fact is that there is no boundary to learning. A street-smart student can add to a discussion that’s the equivalent of what a book smart student would likely bring to the table. Therefore, the board of education should allow teachers and professor to amend their lesson plans in other to make it more interesting and appealing to the student’s senses.
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