Perspectives on Education
Gerald Graff and Sherman Alexis present their perspectives on education and learning. They share some similar views concerning education, in that they believe that the world offers many learning opportunities for people. They believe that the formal learning system is lacking because it fails in applicability of the lessons taught. However, their perceptions differ in the solutions they give to make reading and formal learning relevant for students. Alexis places greater emphasis on personal effort and internal motivation on the part of the student while Graff is of the opinion that schools should do more to ensure that the students are interested in what they learn, by relating their formal learning experience to the experiences they encounter outside of school.
Being educated or book smart sometimes means facing rejection or opposition by peers. Graff and Alexis observe how they faced teasing and opposition from their peers because of being book smart because they were going against the norm. Graff notes, “The hoods would turn against you if they sensed you were putting on airs over them (Graff 144).” What Graff means in this case is that the people in the hood did not approve of anyone who was intellectual. They took this to be a sign of pride and the fact that the person thought that he was better than they were because he was educated. Alexis observes how he would fight with his classmates daily because he would not keep quiet when the non-Indian teacher asked a question (Alexis 63). By answering the teachers’ questions, he was essentially going against the stereotype, as many people believed that Indians were supposed to be stupid. Indians were not supposed to know non-Indian things, and people expected them to be quiet.
Non-intellectual and non-scholarly materials stimulate interest, and it was the basis of intellectual learning for both writers. Alexis and Graff did not begin learning by reading materials from textbooks and others provided by the school. Alexis taught himself how to read by reading superman comic books. He says, “I learned how to read with a superman comic book (Alexis 61).” What he means is that he would use the illustrations in the comic books, and he would relate them to the ongoing narrative. This gave him a sense of what was going on in the story. Graff was more interested in reading sport magazines and books as he found them more interesting. He observes how hated reading books and was only interested in reading sport publications. He read the sports magazines for different sports, sports novels, and autobiographies of different sports personalities (Graff 143).
The writers have different perceptions regarding the role of the individual in interesting the students to learn and have more interest in education. Alexis learned to read on his own. He did not need the motivation of the teachers to interest him in reading. He utilized every chance he got, often reading books late into the night until he fell asleep; he read whenever the students were on break, in between lessons, in the car, at home, and in bookstores. He read everything he could lay his hands on including the materials his father purchased, bulletin boards in different places, junk mails, manuals, cereal boxes, magazines, and the books he borrowed from the library (Alexis 63). Graff offers a different opinion concerning such a reading culture, and he argues, “vast reading… is a form of one-upmanship” (Graff 147). By this, he means that it is a way for the person to show his superiority over others as he competes against them. He does not see this as a form of intellectual growth and individual development. Graff argues that the formal school system is supposed to integrate learning with other social activities that interest the students.
The writers have differing views concerning the educated person. Alexis claims “A smart Indian is a dangerous person, widely feared and ridiculed by Indians and non-Indians alike (Alexis 63).” He means that people do not what to do or think about an educated Indian. He posses both the knowledge of the native Indians, which is specific and special to them, and which has enabled them to acquire the skills and wisdom they have to survive and challenge new ways of living. When the Indian receives non-Indian education, he posses the knowledge of the foreigners and this opens him up to endless possibilities. The knowledge that the Indian has enables him to survive and live at any place. Graff has a different perspective on the issue. His experiences showed him that he could not survive the world by being smart. He had to be tough to survive and be accepted in his neighborhood. He states, “For a boy in my neighborhood and elementary school, only being “tough” earned you complete legitimacy. (Graff 144)” Being smart would not enable him to survive in his world, and he had to pretend by hiding his smartness, refusing to do so would guarantee him a beating from the others in the hood.
Both writes have differences concerning personal motivation and interest in learning. One asserts that learning is more of a personal thing, which the students cultivates within himself while the other claims that the formal education system can do more to interest and motivate students towards learning. On the other hand, both writers share similar views concerning learning. They note the importance of having non-intellectual materials in stimulating the students to learn. Having these materials enhances the students reading culture since they are learning topics that they are interested in, and this exposes them to different reading concepts.
Graff, Gerald. “Hidden Intellectualism.” “They Say / I Say”: The Moves that Matter in Persuasive Writing. Graff, Gerald and Cathy Birkenstein. New York: W. W. Norton, 2006. 142-148. Print
Alexie, Sherman. “The Joy of Reading and Writing: Superman and Me.” The Writer’s Presence: A Pool of Readings, 4th ed. McQuade, Donald and Robert Atwan. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. 61-64. Print
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