Gerald Graff’s Usage Of Persuasive Devices As Depicted In His Writing, Hidden Intellectualism

Gerald Graff is the essay’s rhetor. He is trusted because he is an educator at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Graff is also the former president of the Modern Language Association (the largest association of university teachers and scholars). Graff’s essay, “Hidden Intellectualism”, is likely to be addressed at the Board of Education as well as teachers of all grades. Graff makes the argument that students would be more successful academically if they were allowed to pursue their academic interests by giving them the benefit of doubt. Graff believes this will help students develop writing and critical thinking skills, regardless if they are smart enough to read or smart enough to go out on their own. He believes that school systems are ignoring the opportunity to tap into the core intelligence of their students, which would make learning more fun and easier. Personally, I think this essay should be called kairos. Lectures can be difficult if there aren’t enough interesting topics. Students will be discouraged if the forums they choose don’t allow them to fully explore their options and learn what interests them. Students are not allowed to decide what the curriculum should look like. The way teachers teach students does not help them in their pursuit of education. Graff’s essay may address this issue. Hopefully, Graff’s essay will address this issue.

Graff uses humor to differentiate between street-smart and book-smart people. He writes: “What is the use of intelligence that can’t be applied to academic work? We think it is a waste.” (p. His use of the phrase “What waste” suggests that many people consider street smart individuals to be useless. The author’s phrase suggests that street intelligence is a temporary form of intelligence, which doesn’t compare with being book-smart. This can be viewed in another way: a street smart person is not perceived to possess certain qualities that a book-smart individual has. This distinction is also evident because street smart individuals can’t broaden their knowledge to include academic work. The entire quote is negative in that it implies that street intelligence doesn’t meet society’s expectations. This makes book-smart more acceptable than street smart. The author has succeeded in eliciting a response from the audience. This allows readers to ask why he would call certain types of intelligence a waste because they don’t match the intellectual identities society expects. Graff emphasizes that being book- and street-smart can also be beneficial in times of war and peace. He begins by seperating himself from lower-class communities he is around. Later admitting that “….it felt good to be “bookishly smart” (p. 266). His upbringing and status have given him a reputation to work with and pride. He must be aware of his surroundings as he lives among sharks. He explained that …. is the Chicago neighborhood where he grew-up. This was to preserve the line between “clean-cut” boys such as himself and “hoods” of the working class, as he and his middle class counterparts called them. Graff deliberately included this part in his essay to draw a distinction between his socioeconomic status of a heterosexual middle-class male and those who were impacted during WWII. Graff describes his childhood in a melting pot. This is a place where people of different races, cultures and ethnicities are dominant. Because he is middle-class, not everyone in his neighborhood appreciates his privilege. He lives in a gated neighborhood, where crime rates are low and safety is guaranteed. He is also aware of his surroundings as he knows that if his safety is compromised, he will be caught out.

His point is further supported by the use of humor. He also describes the emotional toll of being unable to fully utilize his intellectual abilities. He was forced to choose between proving his intelligence and giving in to the demands of society by acting the way society expects. In those days, children who were considered geeky or nerdy could be verbally abused, violated, and even attacked. It’s hard to believe that someone could be nerdier or smarter than you. It only leads to fighting for dominance, territory, self-respect, dignity, and power. This is something that an individual must work for. He could also choose “…to be unarticulate and hide telltale signs like grammar and pronunciation. My belief is that he was unable to manage the situation well due to emotional breakdown. He found that he was able to engage in argumentative discussions about toughness and sport with his friends. This allows him to improve his knowledge of “…propose and reply to counterarguments, as well as perform other intellectualizing operations.” His ability to code-switch and channel his intellect towards another avenue is what attracts him to academic literacy.

Graff uses another rhetorical device: ethos. He shares an anecdote from his own journey to becoming book-smart and street-smart. His authenticity is what makes him a trustworthy source of information. He is able to distinguish himself from other kids by living in a community “….. Although it is not easy for a man to keep his head up no matter what, he continued to pursue his interests. He is credible because of his convictions. He believes that all students should read examples of intellectually demanding writing to help them become intellectuals. He counter-argues that a young person “… might be more likely take on intellectual identities if their teachers encourage them to choose subjects that they enjoy, and not those that are boring to them. Graff isn’t disputing that street smart students are not also academically talented. Graff believes that teachers need to find ways to engage students and to help them stay focused on their learning. He is stating that students must be able to learn at their own level. Some students would find it difficult to deconstruct a book written in the 1600s. The student will respond more positively to a teacher’s lesson plan if they find it interesting and engaging. These students are from diverse backgrounds, but they all have unique talents to offer. The teacher should be able to hold their attention and make learning fun, engaging, and easier. Students can use their curiosity to make a profit in academic life.

He commented that logos allowed him to say, “Real intellectuals transform any subject, regardless of how lightweight it may appear, into grist to their mill through thoughtful questions, whereas a dullard can find a method to drain the interest from the richest topic.” (p. 265) Real intellectuals are capable of thinking critically and leading a meaningful discussion without being forced to. A dullard, on the other hand would make the atmosphere boring by their mere input. This quote directly claims that dullards ruin any conversation by making it boring. Participants find it boring and don’t want to engage in conversation because it isn’t as challenging. This is a strength of true intellectuals. They can create a whole argument from a single topic with no prior knowledge. He adds that students are “Making people’s lives easier”.

A non-academic interest is one that can be used to stimulate students’ minds and help them overcome boredom and alienation (p. 269). This means that students would be less likely to fall asleep or become distracted by the teacher’s teachings if they were interested in a topic. It is pointless to teach something if the whole class is not interested in it. This happened to me when an old teacher tried to get everyone to read Hamlet. Students were immediately turned away due to the complexity of the book. My teacher insisted that we perform the play in class. This is learning. Every teacher should create a culture where students feel free and inspired by the way they are taught. Otherwise, students will not be able or willing to sit down and listen to boring content. The class’s interest level would plummet.

Let me conclude by saying that I believe we are all equally book-smart and street-smart in many areas. Some are very articulate while others are creative, knowledgeable and skilled in each aspect. While it might be possible to draw a boundary on a geography, the truth is that learning has no boundaries. An intelligent street student can bring something to the table that is equivalent to what a smart book student could. Teachers and professors should be able to adjust their lesson plans so that it is more engaging and appeals to the student’s eyes.


  • reubenyoung

    Reuben Young is a 39-year-old educational blogger and school teacher. He has been teaching in the United States for over 10 years, and has written extensively on educational topics. He is also a member of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), and has been honored with several awards.



Reuben Young is a 39-year-old educational blogger and school teacher. He has been teaching in the United States for over 10 years, and has written extensively on educational topics. He is also a member of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), and has been honored with several awards.

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