Reference Evaluation: “Hidden Intellectualism”


In “Hidden Intellectualism,” by Gerald Graff, the author approaches the subject of intellectualism with an authority and voice that resonates deeply. He theorizes that educators can provide more momentum to a student that is “street smart” over being a dyed-in-the-wool intellectual by shifting the focus of course curriculums to a more contemporary focus. Graff offers his personal experience as impetus for the proposed paradigm shift, recounting a childhood that was filled with conflicts between being a smarty-pants or being a common hood (382).

In the forties, Graff became a regular reader of sports magazines (381). Through his reading, he learned the fundamentals of life as an intellectual: he learned to construct an argument, evaluate evidence, to move between application and theory, incorporate summaries of views of others, and enter into conversations about ideas (383). He contends that street smart students can learn to be college or university level intellectuals if they can channel their interests in sports or cars into academic work (383).

To some degree, life as an intellectual has served him well. To date, Mr. Graff has made considerable achievements: he has served as president of the Modern Language Association, and is currently a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

I found much wisdom conveyed through this article, and greatly enjoyed it. However, I would not recommend it as source material for a work analyzing the impact of popular shows on contemporary popular culture. While this article is clearly written, it lacks relevance to your work—it is more autobiographical and opinionated than it is a critical work of any particular genre. Furthermore, it does not offer any potential for future research.

Though this article was written with the educator in mind, any average reader would feel very comfortable reading this work. Graff makes his intention clear from the beginning: “schools and colleges might be at fault for missing the opportunity to tap into such street smarts and channel them into good academic work” (380). He continues that students would be more apt to take on “intellectual identities” if educators—in particular, college or university professors— designed their curriculums with the interests of students in mind versus the interests of Ivory Tower educators (380-81). To some, this would no doubt be a great idea. However, this is a highly arguable proposition and has an altogether different focus than your work.

While Graff speaks from a level of experience that is easily conveyed, his article completely lacks relevance to your work. At its furthest reaches, Graff recommends bringing popular culture into the classroom so students can view contemporary material through the eyes of an academic (386). Graff is more focused on the specific task of re-envisioning Ivory Tower education than he is on popular culture. Perhaps the best saving grace of this work would be his view of what an “Intellectual” is: a person that can bring thoughtful questions to any subject (Graff 381). However, in my reading, I could discern no larger connection than a vague nod to popular culture as it could potentially apply to academic coursework. Any insight this article could provide would be highly inferential or anecdotal at best.

In his article, Graff proffers nothing other than personal experience as evidence to support his proposal. While personal experience can be a major force, in this case, it is not enough to tip the scales in favor of considering this work as reference material. Save for his own account, Graff cites no other studies to support any claim made in his work. Nor does he explicate how this work can be applied to any field outside of education. Graff is suggesting that educators redefine the paradigm that is an Ivory Tower education (385). He theorizes that educators, in designing curriculums, should tune into more contemporary matters that hold a greater attraction to younger minds than Plato, Shakespeare, or Pythagoras, for example (Graff 385). Candidly, he notes that his schools “missed the opportunity” to make use of common elements shared by the intellectual and sports worlds, drama and conflict (Graff 385). However, in this reader’s opinion, this solitary case study is not enough.

For what this work does offer, I would be remiss to recommend “Hidden Intellectualism” as source material of any particular weight. While this article is very clearly written, it lacks relevance to your work and offers nothing towards tenable substantiation. Graff does not cite any study to bolster his claims, offering only his personal account. Nor does he provide any hypothetical situations outside of education in which to apply this categorical shift in the minds of educators, or any other audience, to a wider spectrum than educational assignment prompts. In this reader’s opinion, attention to other potential sources for material would be wisely spent.

Work Cited

Graff, Gerald. “Hidden Intellectualism.” They Say / I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing, with Readings (Second Edition), edited by Gerald Graff, Cathy Birkenstein, and Russell Durst, 2012, Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc., pp. 299-311.

TV is Bad, M’kay? Light Bulb Moments and the Benefit of Firsthand Educational Experience

The spectrum of writers that have contributed to the subject of whether television can be good or bad is far and wide. Steven Johnson, in an article entitled “Watching TV makes You Smarter,” the author does much to posit that TV can and will make you smarter—provided you watch shows with complex storylines. According to Johnson, the “Sleeper Curve [a term he coins to demarcate shows where you have to pay attention, make inferences, and track shifting social relationships] is the single most important new force altering the mental development of young people today […]” (par. 4). Shows of the nature which he speaks (e.g. 24, The West Wing, and E.R., among others) involve three elements: multiple threads, flashing arrows, and social networks one must stay attuned to in order to get the most benefit (par. 7). Johnson notes, after all, the mind does like to be challenged; that there is “pleasure to be found in solving puzzles, detecting patterns, or unpacking a complex narrative system” (par. 34).

But, what of shows such as Family Guy…? Antonia Peacocke, in her article: “Family Guy and Freud: Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious,” argues Family Guy does have merit, though hidden (308). Much of the humor espoused on Family Guy strikes at our unconscious. It brings to light the most animalistic and aggressive impulses therefrom (308). However, there also exists a corollary…. In “Hidden Intellectualism,” by Gerald Graff, “real intellectuals [can] turn any subject […] into grist for their mill through the thoughtful questions they bring to [the table], whereas a dullard will find a way to drain the interest out of the richest subject” (381). Graff continues, conflict can contribute greatly to intellectual development but in most cases, comes “down to a choice between being physically tough and being verbal” (382). For those that choose being verbal over physical toughness, i.e. an individual that is “street smart” over being “an “intellectual,” can learn to become an intellectual. That is, in reading [or watching TV], you can learn the “rudiments of the intellectual life: how to make an argument, weigh different kinds of evidence, move between particulars and generalizations, summarize the views of others, and enter into a conversation about ideas” (383). Graff describes the impact of this is seen when a street smart person engages in sports debates (384). That person may join a larger sense of community that reaches a public and national level—especially when you can join a Facebook group or page dedicated to a particular subject, be it a book or television show (Graff 384; Peacocke 303).

Under the right circumstances then, watching television can be good for you, but in all probability, it’s the worst thing you can do. Watching television is time-consuming, requires a higher capacity for cognitive functions to derive the full benefit, and firsthand experience is often best for an authentic learning experience.

Watching television, as it’s currently understood, is time-consuming. Gone are the days when you would have to wait a seemingly interminable amount of time for the next episode of your favorite show to air on TV. Now, online streaming services funnel your favorite shows into your home when you want them. According to Lev-Ram, Netflix, one of many popular online media streaming services, “has trained viewers to binge” (par. 5). A term that has grown in recent years, referring to the tendency of viewers to “binge-watch” multiple episodes of a series in one sitting. This perceived benefit is not without its cost though. Winland, in a study among college students found that “39.4% of [surveyed] students reported that they are less engaged in their academics than with online content” (10). To be sure, watching TV, particularly Netflix, can be a major distraction. If viewers are “binge watching,” then they are spending upwards of three hours or more in front of their TV or computers—Netflix, being an online resource, is watched by students primarily on their laptops (Winland 10). Is there any benefit then…? Steven Johnson seems to think so.

Steven Johnson, in “Watching TV Makes You Smarter,” posits that watching TV can actually make a person smarter. He argues that the cognitive demand placed on the minds of viewers is the same as those of readers (par. 7). It would seem that Peacocke and Johnson would be in agreement on this point. Peacocke asserts that even the most coarse of television shows (“Family Guy,” for instance) has merit (308). But where does that merit lie? That merit lies in the thoughtful questions you bring with you in viewing your favorite series or episodes thereof. In order to derive the most benefit, you must already possess an inquisitive, or intellectual mind. As Graff observes, “[r]eal intellectuals turn any subject […] into grist for their mill through the thoughtful questions they bring to it” (381). It would seem then that if you can’t bring anything to the table when viewing, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. However, if, as Johnson surmises, you’re gaining the most benefit from shows that connect multiple threads, thereby exercising the parts of your brain that map social networks, that benefit can be obtained from real, ordinary life. Rather than seeing how your favorite character (a character that’s often written by one or more screenwriters) navigates complex social frameworks, navigate your own.

Firsthand educational experience is often best. In 1993, in developing suggestions for moving students away from “superficial regurgitation” of educational content, the Council for National Academic Awards “championed the strategy of ‘learning by doing,’” especially focusing on methods that fostered a deeper understanding of educational material via “games, simulations, and role plays; visits; and work experience” (par. 1). Ned Laff asserts the challenge in getting a student to interact with material “is not simply to exploit students’ nonacademic interests, but to get them to see those interests through academic eyes” (qtd. in Graff 385). It is through these moments of deeper understanding that provoke “light bulb moments,” as Murphy contends. When an individual learns through their own experience—or has educational content placed in a contextual setting best accustomed to their own level of understanding, their interaction, and consequential understanding, with material grows by leaps and bounds (Murphy par. 14).

In conclusion, watching TV is extremely time consuming, viewers are sometimes watching in three hour periods three or more times per week. That can be over 546 hours per year! There may be some benefit from watching your favorite characters on screen—but that benefit can best be derived if you’re an active watcher (one who asks questions of themselves, or others, or otherwise mentally or verbally participates in the on screen action) versus being just a passive conduit for fictional on screen actions. Firsthand experience is often best for gaining an educational experience. Seeing the words and actions of your favorite on screen characters may be a viable substitute for experience, but should it…? I would opt for firsthand experience over mapping my social interactions to those of fictional characters.

Works Cited:

Council for National Academic Awards. “The Benefits of Active Learning,”, accessed 16 March 2017.

Graff, Gerald. “Hidden Intellectualism,” They Say / I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing, with Readings (Second Edition), edited by Gerald Graff, Cathy Birkenstein, and Russell Durst, Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc., 2012, pp. 299-311.

Johnson, Steven. “Watching TV Makes You Smarter,” The New York Times,

Lev-Ram, Michael. “How Netflix Became Hollywood’s Frenemy,” WordPress, 7 June 2016,

Murphy, Darryl. “Light Bulb Moments.” WordPress, 19 March 2017,

Peacocke, Antonia. “Family Guy and Freud: Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious,” They Say / I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing, with Readings (Second Edition), edited by Gerald Graff, Cathy Birkenstein, and Russell Durst, Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc., 2012, pp. 299-311.

Winland, Cassandra.“An Exploration of Binge-Watching and Its Effects on College Academics,” Squarespace, static54c08e42e4b0f1b78348c9ce/t/5527e9a3e4b0c120ebdc7650/1428679075633/ Winland+-+Final+Paper.pdf. Accessed 19 March 2017.