Graff, Gerald. Clueless in Academe: How Schooling Obscures the Life of the Mind. New Haven: Yale U P, 2003. Print.
Despite Graff’s best efforts, Clueless in Academe still reads like
what essentially it is, a collection of his essays from the previous decade,
rather than a unified text and coherent book-length argument about how
educational institutions, especially colleges and universities, could better develop
student potential for argumentation and intellectual inquiry. Nevertheless, the book and its diversity of
material provide many useful ideas.
Graff’s most important ideas is that students need to see models of the
intellectual discourse that they are supposed to produce. He cites the experience of a college English
instructor who found that students wrote better essays when they read not only literature
but also criticism about that literature (163).
Though Graff is careful to note that students cannot just be given any
criticism as some will be just too far-removed from their understanding (174), he
makes a strong case for providing better models for student writing. It is surprising that this pedagogical approach
is so rare. Would a baseball coach make her
or his players watch tennis matches and then expect they would be able to be
better baseball players as a result?
Hey, both sports involve balls and hitting them with modified sticks,
right? Yet, such mismatches happen a lot
in education. Many instructors have students read stories but want them to write essays, a different type of writing. If, as instructors, we
want students to produce a certain genre or type of writing, then we would be
wise to show them some models of it first.
Otherwise, students are left essentially on their own to create a genre,
and, in most cases, they don’t succeed.
students along in learning academic genres, Graff proposes another important
idea, that of the template, an idea that he developed further with books such
as They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing.
Basically, to help students make
academic arguments, Graff suggests having the students fill out templates such
as “Whereas X argues that . . . , I contend that . . .” (169). Otherwise, he notes, “These moves seem
disarmingly simple, but they are often hellishly perplexing for inexperienced
writers” (168-69). The templates make
the necessary moves utterly transparent.
Much of academic writing is formulaic; Graff suggests we embrace that
aspect, so students can concentrate on content and enter the academic
entering a conversation is ultimately what Graff and most instructors want
students to be able to do. In fact,
Graff’s endorsement of using topics that students are interested in to teach
students the conventions and methods of academic inquiry (226) supports the
Stage I Ursuline Studies anchors approach to research, in which students pick a
personal topic to research. In those courses, the goal is to teach college-level research; the topic doesn't matter so why not let it be something that would engage a student? Then, once students have the skills, those same skills can be employed throughout the curriculum, whether the student has an initial interest in the topic or not.
Other useful bits of the book
include a handy explanation to students about how and why to use quotations in
academic writing (241-42) and an epilogue that instructs students and teachers
in how to write an argument (275-77). Given how Graff bounces around ideawise in the book, he might want to follow some of his own advice. For that reason, I wouldn't suggest reading the book straight through; instead, bounce around yourself, according to your interest. Graff has many good ideas in these essays.
The book is available through OhioLINK.