Gerald Graff and Michiko Kakutani
It does not present a particular challenge to outline the main idea, promoted in Gerald Graff’s article. According to Graff, it is methodologically inappropriate to refer to what he defines as ‘street-smart’ activities (sports, games, fights, dating) and intellectual activities as conceptually incompatible, because just as it is the case with the sports, the metaphysical basis for academic pursuits is best defined as competition, “Real intellectual world, the one that existed in the big world beyond school, was organized very much like the competitive world of sports, with rival texts, rival interpretations and evaluations of them, rival theories of why they should be read and taught…” (28). Yet, as it is pointed out by Graff, the methodological matrix of today’s liberal education is more concerned with memorization of contextually irrelevant data, as opposed to being concerned with establishing objective preconditions for students’ analytical abilities to be continuously stimulated. In its turn, this explains the phenomenon of ‘nerdism’ – a situation when students’ possession of factual knowledge does not necessarily reflect their ability to understand the practical implications of such knowledge.
For example, one can have a broad theoretical picture of how an engine functions, but if that knowledge cannot be utilized for fixing that very engine, then there is no point in knowing the principles of the engine’s work. Such line of author’s argumentation had brought him to speculate that, in many cases, the socially imposed distinction between intellectuals and ‘street-smarts’ appears to be utterly fallacious. Moreover, Graff comes up with a rather controversial idea that it is students’ ‘street-smart’ ability to promptly and adequately react to life’s challenges that should be regarded as the actual proof of their intellectual-mindedness, “What looks like anti-intellectualism in student culture is often an alternative kind of intellectualism, which grows up alongside schooling and is usually seen as irrelevant to it” (30). The author concludes his article by suggesting that it is by encouraging students to develop their ‘hidden intellectualism’ that teachers will be able to help them grow into valuable members of society.
The conceptual argumentation of Kakutani’s article resonates with that of Graff’s perfectly well. According to Kakutani, the 1990s saw the rise of the so-called X-generation, the representatives of which are known for their conformist socio-political attitudes, their inability to adopt active stance in life and for clearly collectivist essence of their existential mode, “A survey of the post-Gen X generation suggests that the young people born in the early 1980’s and afterward are, as a group, less rebellious than their predecessors, more practical-minded, less individualistic…” (1). The author explains it by the fact that since the seventies the dogmas of multiculturalism and political correctness in Western countries had attained an officially endorsed status, which in its turn created objective preconditions for more and more people to think of the very concept of political or intellectual debate as something capable of stirring up public controversy – hence, socially inappropriate.
Even though Western countries never cease taking pride in being democratic, they in fact have turned into ideologically oppressive states a long time ago. After all, nowadays, one can be easily dismissed or even face the prospect of imprisonment for simply suggesting that allowing illegal immigrants from the Third World to ‘celebrate diversity’ at the expense of native-born taxpayers might not necessarily be the smartest thing to do – since this may be classified as a ‘hate speech’. As Kakutani had pointed out, “This tolerance of other people… seems to have resulted in a reluctance to engage in the sort of impassioned argumentation that many baby boomers remember from their college days” (1). Yet, the free flow of ideas is the metaphysical foundation upon which empirical sciences thrive. Therefore, it does not come as a particular surprise that such American technological (intellectual) companies as Microsoft strive to hire professionals from abroad, who despite their lessened ability to ‘celebrate tolerance’, are nevertheless able to function as very efficient employees, who understand how their possession of an abstract knowledge affects surrounding realities. Kakutani concludes her article by suggesting that in order to prevent a continuous decline of Western educational standards, debate must be made an integral element of academic curriculum.
Although the lines of argumentation employed by Graff and Kakutani in their articles appear conceptually similar, there can be little doubt as to the fact that Graff’s article is more optimistic. This, however, can be explained by the fact that while elaborating on the significance of ‘hidden intellectualism’, Graff refers to the realities of living in the fifties. Even though at that time Bible-thumpers enjoyed much more political and educational influence, as compared to how it is today, the demographic and ideological fabric of American society was essentially homogeneous. What is even more important is that during the course of the fifties American society had not been subjected to the intellectual oppression of political correctness, the conceptual premise of which was based upon an utterly anti-scientific assumption of people’s equality. Equality implies sameness of energetic potentials, which is why this term is synonymous to the term entropy, which in its turn, is synonymous to the notion of death. This is the reason why there is not even a single historical instance of Socialism, based upon the irrational assumption of people’s equality, having proven an effective form of socio-political governing.
As it is suggested by Graff, indulging in sports is not only physically but also intellectually beneficial for anyone, as it develops one’s ‘street-smartness’ – a psychological trait of a true intellectual. Nevertheless, in many American schools students are now encouraged to think of the very concept of sport as something politically incorrect, which explains why, as time goes on, less and less public schools require students to attend classes of physical education. The reason for this is simple – since the word ‘sport’ is synonymous to the word ‘competition’, it is automatically antithetical to the words ‘tolerance’ and ‘equality’. Yet, it is ‘tolerance’ and ‘equality’ that are nowadays forced on students on an almost daily basis, in order to make them less tempted to question the actual benefits of ‘multiculturalism’.
Therefore, even though it is quite impossible to disagree with Graff and Kakutani when they argue in favor of legitimization of debate in classrooms, it would be wrong to think that both articles contain valuable pieces of advice as to how this can be achieved in practice. Apparently, it never occurred to both authors that such legitimization would automatically result in undermining the very fundamentals of ‘multiculturalism’ – something that today’s ‘progressive’ policy-makers are utterly afraid of. It is only after the process of designing socio-political policies in Western countries is adjusted to correspond to the notion of sanity, that debate will once again become an integral part of educational strategies, aimed at facilitating students’ intellectual capacities.
Graff, Gerald. “Hidden Intellectualism.” Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture 1.1 (2001): 21-36. Web.
Kakutani, Michiko. “Debate? Dissent? Discussion? Oh, Don’t Go There!.” Critics Notebook (2002). University of Minnesota. Web.
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