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Gerald Graff, an English and Education professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago, questions the effectiveness of the education system in his narrative essay “Hidden Intellectualism”. Graff’s purpose is to convey the idea that intellectualism cannot be strictly defined by an individual’s ability to interact with academic subjects and texts. In the text, he shares the relationship that he has with sports books and magazines and how it enabled him to learn the fundamentals of intellectualism. He utilizes both an assertive yet compassionate tone, where the assertive tone appeals to school boards and the compassionate tone appeals to students. On the other hand, Malcolm X, a civil rights activist, presents the power of will and education in the excerpt “A Homemade Education” from The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
Malcolm’s purpose in the text was to show how self-education propelled him beyond his eighth-grade level of education and allowed him to be aware of the many issues within humanity. Malcolm adopts a formal tone in the text gain credibility and to gain the approval from his audience. “Hidden Intellectualism” aims to broaden the idea of intellectualism while “A Homemade Education” shares the power of self-education. In “Hidden Intellectualism”, Graff begins the narrative essay by drawing the audience in and making them feel a part his concern. He uses words and phrases such as “we” and “us” to increase audience relevance and make them feel inevitably invited to pay attention to what the text has to say. Graff first talks about how everyone knows someone who is considered street smart but is unable to apply the same kind of smartness in an academic environment. He then proposes that “schools and colleges might be at fault for missing the opportunity to tap into such street smarts and channel them into good academic work”. By doing so, Graff is able to effectively shift the audience’s focus towards the topic that he wants to educate the audience with. As stated by Graff, one of the main reasons why schools and colleges overlook the value of street smartness is because they exclusively associate intellectualism with how well a student is able to interpret subjects and texts that are “weighty and academic. He then backs up his claim and increases his own credibility by stating that “no necessary connection has ever been established between any text or subject and the educational depth and weight of the discussion it can generate”.
Followed by that, Graff suggests that in order to seek intellectualism in a broader variety of students, they should be more encouraged to dive into subjects that pique their interest. He then follows the text with his own personal experience with sports to provide an example and prove his point. He begins by telling the audience how he hated books up until he entered college; however, he tells how he cared for sports magazines. He lists magazines such as Sport, Sports Illustrated, as well as professional baseball, football, and basketball annual magazines guides, to really demonstrate that he was really passionate about sports and that he was knowledgeable in that aspect as well. Graff recalls how in the neighborhood he grew up in, he would pass by “hoods” who would bully him if he seemed too book-smart in their eyes. Due to his contextual circumstances at the time, being physically tough was far more important than showing any sense of intellect. This showed a setback in Graff’s intellectual journey as he was torn between fitting in and sounding smart. It wasn’t until when Graff told how Marilyn Monroe divorced baseball star Joe Dimaggio and married playwright Arthur Miller that there was a shift in the Graff’s views towards intellects, it was a “symbolic triumph of geek over jock”.
To Graff, this served as a step of realization for him as he realized that what he has been doing all along. Graff realized that, through his love for sports, he’s already been learning “the rudiments of the intellectual life” where he has learned how to make arguments, use and weigh different pieces of evidence, maneuver around particulars and generalizations, summarize other’s views, and enter conversations. It was then, where he saw the intellectual potential in materials beyond what is assigned in the academic setting. It was then, where he realized the potential for being an intellectual in himself and others. Graff criticizes the school system in the sense that it was a very competitive environment, just like the sports world, but it is only a less attractive reproduction of it.
On the other hand, Malcom X began “A Homemade Education” by telling the audience his background and what inspired him to gain higher education. He tells how he “became increasingly frustrated at not being able to express what [he] wanted to convey in letters that [he] wrote, especially those to Elijah Muhammad”. He also tells how he was able to articulate what he wanted to convery and that made him unfunctional. Malcolm provides an example of a slang he would have had to use if he doesn’t improve his vocabulary, “something such as “Look, daddy, let me pull your coat about a cat”. This insight acquires a sense of respect from the audience, and perhaps a sense of familiarity to some, and helps keep their attention for the story he will tell. His self-educational journey began in Charlestown Prison, where he was first motivated y his fellow inmate Bambi. He was awed by his initiation to take charge of any conversation and he was inspired by him in that sense. He tried to copy him, but it did not get too far. It wasn’t until Malcolm X transferred to the Norfolk Prison Colony where he was able to grasp a hold of a dictionary. He would spend days on end copying and learning words from the dictionary, and this triggered the starts of his fascination towards words. With every page, he began learning more about people, places, and history. With his newfound knowledge, he began to dive into the history of black men. He read texts such as Will Durant’s Story of Civilization, W. E. B. Du Bois’s Negro History. By doing so, he elevates his credibility and knowledge on the topic as he demonstrates to the audience how the texts allowed him to learn about “black empires before the black slave was brought to the United States, and the early Negro struggles for freedom”.
These aforementioned texts, alongside many more, opened him a gateway of information even from when he was bounded prison walls. And it was these texts, that sent him a call to action to do something about the lack of black rights in the United States at the time. He goes on to tell how, when he got out of prison, he publically spoke in London about the human rights and oppressed minorities. This goes on to show and validate his credibility as he transformed into action.
In short, Gerald Graff’s “Hidden Intellectualism” uses methods such as diction, personal experience, and logical arguments to structure his text in a way that draws the audience in and convinces them to see from his point of view. Whereas Malcolm X’s “A Homemade Education” where he provides his own experiences from inside and outside of the prison walls to demonstrate the importance and value of an education. Similar to Graff, Malcolm uses methods such as diction and personal experience to draw the audience in. However, the two texts are drastically different in the sense that they are structured and the message they are trying to convey to their audience.
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