The Stigma Behind Blue-collar Work As Described In Hidden Intellectualism

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I remember coming home from work one day to a house full of distant family members from my mother’s side. They asked me where I had come home from, since it was pretty late in the day. I told them that I worked, which raised their eyebrows due to pleasant shock. “Where?” they had asked. I told them I worked at a vegan cheese shop as a food vendor. Their pleasant shock quickly turned to worry and a slight form of pity. I knew that they had expected me to say something like “oh, I intern at a hospital” or even “I intern at an investment bank around Wall Street.” Their reaction to my choice of work was the epitome of how society views blue-collar work in a negative light. Mike Rose, in “Blue-Collar Brilliance” and Gerald Graff, in “Hidden Intellectualism” both heavily analyze this subject. They highlight that being street smart is beyond important and just as valuable as being book smart. There are many negative assumptions in our society today against blue-collar workers. After reading these two texts, I believe that these assumptions are unfair because the work involved with blue-collar work is challenging and requires a great amount of critical thinking, along with problem solving.

In “Hidden Intellectualism”, Gerald Graff touches on his high school experiences and explains how as a child, his school of thought was more focused on sports and cars, rather than typical literary works that were taught in classes. He criticizes schools and says, “What doesn’t occur to us... is that schools and colleges might be at fault for missing the opportunity to tap into such street smarts and channel them into good academic work” (Graff 1). Graff says that they overlook the potential of street smarts. He explains his belief that “street smarts beat out book smarts in our culture because street smarts are not non intellectual, as we generally suppose, but because they satisfy an intellectual thirst more thoroughly than school culture, which seems pale and unreal” (Graff 1). He is basically saying that the hunger for learning about things that interest you is more important than school culture.

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In “Blue-Collar Brilliance”, Mike Rose says that we as a society solely base intelligence on grades and tests. But based on his various experiences and observations, he states that the line of blue-collar work can often require more mental activity than it is credited for. This is because of the conditions that apply to the blue collar line of work such as cost effectiveness, productivity, efficiency, problem solving skills, communication and much more. Along with the most important condition when it comes to working, time. Blue-collar workers definitely have to be quick on their feet. He talks about his mother and how he has come to understand that his “mother’s kind of work demands of both body and brain” (Rose 2). The tasks that she was required to complete quickly became a part of her muscle memory with experience. They were all learned by observation, trial and error, and physical or verbal assistance from a co-worker or trainer. Rose states that formal education is not the only way to attain intelligence and that we as a society have to come to realize that intelligence is diverse. Society “promotes the muscled arm, sleeve rolled tight against biceps, but no brightness behind the eye, no image that links hand and brain” (Rose 5).

Rose’s views are very similar to that of Gerald Graff’s because they are both saying that work obtained without formal education should not draw any negative assumptions about the kind of people that take it on.

Graff argued the fact that he had learned just as much about the real world while reading about sports as he would have while reading classic works of literature. This led to him realizing that his “preference for sports over schoolwork was not anti-intellectualism, so much as intellectualism by other means.” (Graff 1) He says he learned multiple valuable things that helped him in the real world. For example, sports taught him how to make an argument, weigh different evidence, summarizing the views of others, and correctly entering different conversations. He discusses the topics he learned about, such as how to argue clearly, determine the truth in other people’s arguments, and gain an overall understanding and appreciation for intellectual arguing. He figured out how to make a statement, reevaluate and respond to a critic’s response, and come up with valid conclusions. Another argument that Graff discusses is that of community. He points out that schoolwork is often solitary and does not encourage communication, whereas discussing various aspects of sports is an important part of community. He claims that the intellectual world that exists outside of school is very similar to a sports team with competition, fans, evaluations, and rivalries. Graff’s main point is that because the topic that interested him the most was sports, he realized that students often times are passionate about topics other than classic literature. They should be encouraged to study and write about what interests them, instead of Shakespeare or Plato.

Blue-collar jobs are much more grueling than white-collar jobs. Because they require less education, they are seen as jobs that do not require much intelligence. This, however, is far from true. There are many tasks that require a specific way of thinking that need to be completed.

I wish instead of changing the topic, I had told my family that my job is actually very beneficial. It makes me a well-rounded individual. It has allowed me to be more confident in myself and has helped me battle my social anxiety. It has greatly improved my communication skills, has allowed me correctly read people and their emotions, it has improved my memory. I have to figure out people’s moods, what cheeses they would want to bring home as a gift to their husbands, wives, etc. to their sick vegan grandma. Graff and Rose are right when they say that intellectualism should not be measured by school exams, it should instead be measured by how well we do in the real-world. The assumptions that society makes are very unfair. “If we think that whole categories of people- identified by class or occupation- are not that bright, then we reinforce social separations and cripple our ability to talk across cultural divides” (Rose 12). Get rid of the stereotypes.        

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