Clueless in Academe

How Schooling Obscures the Life of the Mind

Gerald Graff

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July 11, 2004
320 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
2 b/w illus.
ISBN: 9780300105148
Paper

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Gerald Graff argues that our schools and colleges make the intellectual life seem more opaque, narrowly specialized, and beyond normal learning capacities than it is or needs to be. Left clueless in the academic world, many students view the life of the mind as a secret society for which only an elite few qualify.

In a refreshing departure from standard diatribes against academia, Graff shows how academic unintelligibility is unwittingly reinforced not only by academic jargon and obscure writing, but by the disconnection of the curriculum and the failure to exploit the many connections between academia and popular culture. Finally, Graff offers a wealth of practical suggestions for making the culture of ideas and arguments more accessible to students, showing how students can enter the public debates that permeate their lives.

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.

“Gerald Graff makes one rethink the relationship between scholarship, on the one hand, and ordinary thinking and speaking, on the other. In the process, he illuminates both worlds.”—Howard Gardner, Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard University

Clueless challenges writing teachers to show why learning to think, write, and argue as an academic is an important set of skills for undergraduates to acquire. Instead of saying, ‘what’s wrong with students,’ Graff urges us to ask, ‘why are we so bad at explaining to students why we value the sorts of intellectual work that we do?’”—Joseph Harris, University Writing Program, Duke University

“Clueless in Academe continues Gerald Graff’s long-haul passion: to examine and celebrate the life of the mind—and to push us to think about it in fresh ways. There is immense respect here for students and for their intellectual lives in and out of the classroom.”—Mike Rose, University of California, Los Angeles, author of Lives on the Boundary and Possible Lives 

“This book is not about the need to water down the curriculum; instead it is a polemic for academics to become better teachers and better mentors. . . . Anyone who advises students will find the chapter on the application process revealing. Every student teacher, teaching assistant, and professor should read this book and re-read after they have been teaching for a few years. This book can help guide teachers and professors to better teaching and consequently improved learning environments for students.”—Janni Aragon, Altar


"This work should be read by faculty at all levels (especially colleges and universities), reflected upon, and presented to students. Recommended."—Choice

"Clueless in Academe . . . is about the American educational scene, but the problems [Graff] discusses in this readable book will be easily recognized by Canadian university instructors, and the solutions he recommends as easily applied north of the border. . . . As a rhetorician, Professor Graff himself practices what he preaches using the very style and persuasive strategies of the book. His prose is reader-friendly but not patronizing-a nice mix of the academic and vernacular. . . . Professor Graff’s rhetorical strategies are impressive and his message is worthy of our attention."—Brett Zimmerman, University Affairs

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

"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

"Clueless in Academe offers a compelling view of the academic world from an insider's perspective. . . . Graff provides a persuasive analysis of the ways that academic discourse alienates students from joining in the conversation, and offers several perspectives on how to teach students to think critically and communicate effectively in academe.  In a sense, he takes the reader on a journey behind the veil of academic life, revealing some raw (and contested) views on academic thinking, writing and teaching."—Marcia M. Roe Clark, Journal of College Student Development

“This pathbreaking work in the field Graff wryly labels ‘clueless studies’ is impressive in its scope and compelling in its case for a reorientation of academic practice. Arguing that academic teaching and scholarship too often shut students out of the very conversation they should be engaged in, Graff explores both the stylistic and the institutional constraints that so often prevent ‘clarity breaking through’ in the prose of students and professors alike. Clueless in Academe challenges all of us to preach what we practice: to involve our students and our readers directly in the stimulating, conflictual give-and-take of active intellectual debate.”—David Damrosch, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, author of We Scholars and Meetings of the Mind 

Won Honorable Mention for the 2003 Mina P. Shaughnessy Prize sponsored by the Modern Language Association

 Won the 2004 David H. Russell Research Prize from the National Council of Teachers of English