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.


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