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Clueless in Academe: How Schooling Obscures the Life of the Mind

4.4 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0300105148
ISBN-10: 0300105142
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Graff is reopening the door on a major debate. In the wake of theory, in the wake of feminism, post-colonial criticism and all the rest, what is a liberal arts education supposed to be about? How should teachers teach? What should students learn? Intelligently, humanely, Gerald Graff is bringing all of these questions back home to the classroom, which, at least for now, seems exactly where they belong."—Mark Edmundson, Washington Post Book World


"[Graff] writes with lucidity and charm. . . . A worthwhile work trapped in an enigma."—Steven Lagerfeld, Wall Street Journal

About the Author

Gerald Graff, Professor of English and Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is the author of many books and articles, including Beyond the Culture Wars, and he was winner of the American Book Award in 1992. He is currently working with his wife, Cathy Birkenstein-Graff, on a writing textbook, A Short Guide to Argument, that will be a how-to companion to Clueless in Academe.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (July 11, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300105142
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300105148
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #382,119 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

GERALD GRAFF, a Professor of English and Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago and 2008 President of the Modern Language Association of America, has had a major impact on teachers through such books as Professing Literature: An Institutional History, Beyond the Culture Wars: How Teaching the Conflicts Can Revitalize American Education, and, most recently, Clueless in Academe: How Schooling Obscures the Life of the Mind.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the book on learning in the classroom that I've been waiting for. So often, even interested students don't get what their teacher wants. When this happens, they can lose confidence in their native abilities and teachers become frustrated in themselves and their students. With Gerald Graff's guidance, teachers can now demistify their expectations while validating their students' intelligence. While this book is directed to teachers, parents will appreciate it as well and may want to pass it on to their child's teachers. (Indeed, some goal-oriented parents may find the chapter on writing an admission essay worth the price of the book alone.)
Graff is an English professor, formerly of the University of Chicago and now at the University of Illinois, Chicago. He gained some fame in the early 1990s for arguing against his then-U. Chicago colleague Allan Bloom's understanding of Western culture. In this book, Graff looks into the great chasm between students and teachers and finds on one side Arguespeak, the language of teachers, and, on the other side, Studentspeak, the language of everyone else. Arguespeak consists of looking at particular aspects of a subject matter critically, in light of what one knows about the whole field. Studentspeak makes itself heard whenever people talk about everyday things: friends, food, movies, work, video games, t.v. shows, and so on. Problems arise when teachers want to hear Arguespeak from their students but only get Studentspeak. Graff's book offers concrete ways to help teachers teach their language to students.
The main obstacle to understanding Arguespeak is that every critical comment uttered by a teacher is made within a larger conversation about a topic or subject.
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Format: Hardcover
"Clueless in Academe" is a discussion on how to make the academic intellectual life more accessible and desirable for incoming college students. The underlying premise of the book is that "becoming educated has more to do with thinking and talking about subjects or texts in analytical ways than with the subjects or texts you study." While this premise breaks down rapidly as students progress in their major course of study, it is a useful assumption for teaching beginning college students.
Graff's focus is on how English departments should go about their business, and in doing so recommends making connections with popular culture -- since he assumes the subject of study is secondary to learning how to argue. Graff goes on to criticize how different disciplines send different messages about what kind of composition is expected, mentioning not just the humanities and social sciences, but also the sciences and mathematics. While using popular culture as a means of imparting analytical thinking skills is clearly inappropriate for these subjects, Graff does discuss an alternative means that I found interesting: a particular way of intertwining of natural language explanations along with the technical discourse. His use of templates for writing essays also has analogs in the analysis that goes on in other disciplines.
Other topics touched upon in the book include the value of analytical thinking and a discussion of progressive versus traditional models of education.
Overall, "Clueless in Academe" is useful reading for any teacher trying to get their students to think.
Comment 29 of 31 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Gerald Graff says the great crime of modern academe is not that we deal with tough subjects in dense prose. Our crime is that we withhold the keys to our subjects and prose from students who so desperately want in on what we offer. Reading this book offers new insights into teaching, and reminds me what my students most need to succeed.

Graff describes what students need to know to flourish in current academia, and contrasts that with the content of typical high school and university classes. We who teach have a specialized academic vocabulary, which we expect students to gain through osmosis. Teachers are so immersed in our subjects that we forget which ideas we take for granted are obscure to our students, so we come across as opaque blowhards.

The problem, Graff says, is that the most significant education themes are those of debate and argument. Yet because we teachers don't state this in student language, students see our questions and criticisms as condemnations. We need to teach them how to argue in respectful, productive terms on issues that are not self-evidently true, if we want students to succeed.

This book is not meant exclusively for teachers. Students will find useful chapters on how to create admission essays, negotiate writing intensive classes, and craft class papers without tears. Graff's explication of rhetoric and controversy covers every major theme you should have gotten in ninth grade English, and does so in clear language.

Though Graff comes from a composition background, he stresses how his ideas apply to all disciplines and can be addressed across fields. He uses multiple sources, and diverse educational traditions, to create a synthesis that proposes new options in teaching and studying. This book offers ideas for teachers, students, administrators, and anyone who cares whether students have the skills they need in school and in life.
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