How School Teaches Us to Be a Hero in the Game Called Life
Gerald Graff makes an argument about reforming the current educational system by finding the “Hidden Intellectualism” in street smarts, pop culture and other non-traditional academic subject matter. In Graff’s brave new academic world, the jock can use his love of sports off the football field or basketball court to spark interest and debate in the classroom, the local hoodlum can utilize the hustle and flow he picked up on the streets to boost his GPA and that disinterested slacker sitting in the back row can move to the head of the honor roll. Sounds great but before educators start burning stacks of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and ordering copies of Sports Illustrated for their classes, let’s investigate Graff’s hypothesis a little more closely.
Graff’s vision for a new school like any beautiful utopian vision is just a jump, skip and a hop away from his ugly evil dystopian twin. Want street smarts to have equal weight with academic prowess? How would teachers feel about having to share the teacher’s lounge with Tony Montana? He possessed street smarts in abundance! Does he have a master’s degree from CUNY’s Brooklyn or Hunter College, Columbia or NYU? Oh no, he graduated magna cum laude from the school of hard knocks! What a perfect role model for impressionable youth! Parents just imagine your kids answering the age old question, “What did you learn in school today?” by saying “I learned to pick the lock of my teacher’s car so I can get the answers for my tests in advance!” Ok, so maybe I’m taking Graff’s argument to the extreme, but what about innocently using a student’s favorite sports team, rapper or television show to teach the fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic?
Well, Graff himself admits to the limits of making a student’s favorite pastime the centerpiece of their educational experience. He confesses that, “students who get excited about the chance to write about their passion for cars will often write as poorly and unreflectively on that topic as on Shakespeare or Plato” (203). The reason for this phenomenon is because being an interested learner has less to do with being able to relate to the material and more to do with something that any success in life requires: character. While I agree with Graff that having a high IQ is not necessary to be an exceptional student, being disciplined about getting to class and handing your work in on time, persevering when you encounter subjects you struggle with and taking initiative by not solely relying on your fellow students, parents or teachers to guarantee your success is fundamental. Graff may love sports but life is not a football game. There are not always coaches on the sidelines pushing you to your personal best, cheerleaders to celebrate every goal you achieve, referees to dish out penalties for unfair plays and awards for MVP when you produce outstanding results. Yes, the game of life is a game but skills learned in school can help you master it.
Pushing yourself in some dusty corner of a dimly lit library when your friends have gone to sleep hours ago and you’re still up trying to figure out equations that you probably will never use in real life takes a different kind of hero. Being labeled a nerd or uncool for excelling in the classroom and not being able to master the art of “twerking” takes a peculiar kind of strength that our nation’s future depends on. Make no mistake about it, life is hard. Do we want a nation of leaders who only do what’s fun or popular? Or do we want a nation of leaders that as President John F. Kennedy said “choose to go to the moon…and do other things not because they are easy, but because they are hard”?