Academic Intelligence isn’t Everything.

In today’s society, a lack of formal education is frowned upon. Moreover the inability to understand intellectual teachings such as those found in literature books. Through the essays “Blue-Collar Brilliance” by Mike Rose and “Hidden Intellectualism” by Gerald Graff one can see that academic intelligence isn’t everything. As seen in Roses essay, blue collar workers work hard and receive little to no recognition. According to Rose, these workers that did not attend institutions of higher education were considered to be less intelligent than those that did. Graff believes that “we associate the educated life, the life of the mind, too narrowly and exclusively with subjects and texts that we consider inherently weighty and academic”(380) and that we tend to forget about the knowledge of “cars, dating, fashion, sports, TV or video games” (381). In other words, Graff feels that society undermines street smarts. Blue-collar workers can be seen to have a correlation to being street smart. Within today’s society, those who do not receive an education and become blue collar workers are shown to have significantly higher street smart abilities. Throughout these essay writings, we see that intelligence should not be based only on intellectual readings but based on life experiences and hard work.

In the article “Blue-Collar Brilliance” the main focus was to convey that there are more forms to intelligence then just intellectual. With the focus being so, Rose presents that a broader perspective of views of education allows us to take cognitive learning seriously. Rose advocates the emphasis on what our culture views as intelligence; “Our cultural iconography promotes the muscled arm, sleeve rolled tight against biceps, but no brightness behind the eye, no image that links hand and brain” (Rose 247). In making this comment, Rose urges us to take a step back and to look at the society’s opinion as a whole and how they see that blue-collar work is not as demanding and brain powering than white-collar work. People within society such as intellectuals, examples being scholars, have observed the working class people. Their observations have focused on the work that is being accomplished and not taking into consideration the knowledge and training that must take place beforehand and on the job. Ultimately, what is at stake here is not giving the working class people the credit they deserve for all the hard work they accomplish.
According to Rose, one of his uncles did not finish high school and stopped in the ninth grade and later in life went to work for a motor company. Within his experience of working in a car shop he still was able to learn even though something that did not occur in higher education (248).  Rose himself writes, “Though many kinds of physical work don’t require a high literacy level, more reading occurs in the blue-collar workplace than in generally thought, from manuals and catalogs to work orders and invoices, to lists, labels and forms” (253).  In other words, Rose believes that there is a misconception that blue-collar work does not require any intellectual knowledge.

I agree that blue-collar work should be given more positive acknowledgment then it is given because experiences in my own life confirm it. My family comes from a line of diner owners as well as waiters and waitresses. From second hand experience this work is by no means a walk in the park. Being a waiter takes a lot of patience and hard work. For example, one has to be prepared to deal with the public and be able to multi-task at all times. It may sound easy but it is far from it. It takes specific skills and knowledge to be an excellent worker in this field and not many people can’t handle it.  A waiter must be able to memorize the menu in full as well as deal with emergency situations are they occur.  “Impossible,” some will say, “How difficult can it be to carry a plate or two to customers and tell them to have a good day?” Besides, if one owns the actual diner no hard labor needs to be done by them, therefore it must be easy. While it is true that being a business owner may require less physical work, it does not necessarily follow that less intellectual work is required. This is not to say that owning a diner or working in one is the most difficult blue-collar work, but rather that it shows an example of what blue-collar work might entail. I believe that blue-collared work is undermined and should be given more credit for the routines, observation and learning they must accomplish.

Rose’s viewpoint on blue-collar work and how it is undermined based on the knowledge and skills required can be closely correlated to Graff’s argument of street smarts and book smarts. In his article Hidden Intellectualism Graff states that higher education “overlooks the intellectual potential of street smart: and the fact that we associate those street smarts with anti-intellectual concerns” (Graff, 380). Within Graff’s article, he conveys the importance of street smarts and how it should not be underestimated. He wants us to steer clear of associating intelligence with a limited perception of what it means to be educated because that is one of society’s biggest problems. This is a problem because intelligence should not solely focus on intellectual readings but also on life experiences. Graff  emphasizes his argument by stating, “I believe that street smarts beat out book smarts in our culture not because street smarts are nonintellectual, as we generally suppose, but because they satisfy an intellectual thirst more thoroughly than school culture, which seems pale and unreal” (Graff, 384). In making this comment Graff urges us to look at the information that we learn while being educated and realize that a majority of   “book smarts” does not help individuals navigate through society. This interpretation challenges the work of scholars who have long assumed that “book smarts” is all that an individual needs to live a successful life. The interpretation that “book smarts” does not help one navigate through society challenges the scholars who believe that receiving a higher education is necessary to be successful. Graff states this because it is those who are street smart that want to learn other material than just the usual intellectual readings.

In Graff’s view, “Students do need to read models for intellectually challenging writing -and Orwell is a great one- if they are to become intellectuals themselves. But they would be more prone to take on intellectual identities if we encouraged them to do so at first on subjects that interest them rather than ones that interest us” (Graff, 380). The essence of Graff’s argument is that it is important for students to read intellectual writings if they intend to become a professional in that intellectual field of writing.  However, we should make it a point to teach more information on what is interesting to the students rather than what the instructors want to teach them. At first glance one might say that our society is very focused on education and many believe that without education a successful life cannot be achieved. But on closer inspection, it is not just “book smart” that allows people to navigate through life, but also “street smart” which can be learned through life lessons.   These conclusions would have significant results because most students would benefit from this as well as raise their interest to learn the material and therefore they would excel within the classroom.

Graff’s theory of the public under estimating the knowledge of people who are street smart is extremely useful because it sheds a light on the difficult problem of how our society and education systems are close minded and reserved. Higher education should make it a priority to create more interesting classes and programs that interests the students. Topics such as fashion magazines, car and shopping should be studied within higher education but through “academic eyes” (Graff 386). However, what people fail to realize is that one can benefit from studying these topics and these topics should be considered intellectual. Yet some readers may challenge my view by insisting that these topics are considered to be hobbies. When thinking of an intellectual, many will picture someone reading a Shakespeare’s plays or a person solving chemistry problems. While it is true that playing a sport can be a hobby and reading a fashion magazine can be done on someone’s lunch hour, it does not necessarily follow the fact that it takes less brain capacity to analyze the rhetoric and style of writing. It is just as difficult and time consuming to do that then it is to solve a chemistry problem. A person does need background knowledge and statistical information to fully grasp a specific sport or to examine the style of writing in a fashion magazine; therefore, people should not be undermined for being street smart rather than book smart. Essentially, I am arguing not to undermine Shakespeare and chemistry, but that we should understand that both of these ideas of intellect can be compared to reading a fashion magazine and background statistical knowledge in regards to a sport. I feel that although they seem intellectually different, they take similar brain capacity to accomplish.  

It is made evident within both of these essays that Graff and Rose believe academic intelligence does not account for everything. Those who develop “street smarts” through real world experiences as opposed to a textbook deserve more respect as workers.  The effort and knowledge that is necessary to do blue-collar jobs are of the same level as that of those who go to obtain a formal degree. Those with a formal education are respected more because they withstand years of higher education and receive a degree in a specific field. However, what may do not realize is that a degree in Chemistry may get them a well paying job but will not help them navigate through society as street smarts would. In addition, those who would find it more valuable to read about the subjects related to their interests, rather than those of their professors choice, would thrive in the classroom, and post education employment.

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