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Hidden power structure

Secrets are secrets only if known by a few people. It’s not true if that a secret is know by all too then be a secret at all. In Robin Lakoff’s essay “The Grooves of Academe” she discusses the secret knowledge that isn’t explained to most college students. Such things as what it takes to get a PhD, and the hidden knowledge that students should know but are not taught. Robin Lakoff begins her essay debating as to whether there should be a class that teaches students how to learn these hidden secrets or should students be left in the dark and have to try to uncover these secrets themselves. This hidden knowledge is similar to a situation I once went through when I was becoming a third grade student. I will address this latter in the paper.

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“The Grooves of Academe” is an essay written by Robin Lakoff, a linguistics professor at the University of California Berkley. At the beginning of the essay Lakoff is in a meeting which is her fellow department personnel. The department is discussing about “revamping the department’s graduate program: how many courses, and which, and in what order, are to be required for the PhD”. A new course was announced to the department. This class would teach students about the hidden knowledge of acquiring a PhD. The class would cover things like “how to get articles published; how to write abstracts”, and most importantly “how power is allocated in the field of linguistics, who has it, why, and how to get it”.

This power and this knowledge becomes the debate of the department. Some in the department wonder why they should have to teach this hidden knowledge because it is this hidden knowledge that bestows the power which these people hold. The whole gist of the argument revolves around the fact that the people in power would like to stay in power, however they do not perceive, nor refer to it as “power”. The way that they stay in power is by knowing the secrets that are unknown by others. The essence of the departmental argument is not that they didn’t want others to know, it’s just that they wanted to stay in power.

As students (especially in elementary school), all we were really interested in was finding the right answers. I experienced a similar situation when I was beginning the third grade. My family had just moved to Pennsylvania, from Wisconsin. I found living on the east coast was very different from the Midwest. The way people talk and interact, even the way people are educated on the east coast, is different. After the first week of school I was placed into a class that was labeled as a “slower-reader class”. The reality was I wasn’t a slow reader. The administration had placed me there because they felt that I wasn’t up to the level of many of the other students. The question I had as a third grader however was, what was the level of the other students? I didn’t know at the time because I had no past experiences or interactions with the class to assess myself, or compare myself to the reading level of the other students. The comparison that I’m trying to make is how in Lakoff’s essay the professors didn’t want the students to know the secrets of how to really get a PhD. In my situation I was never really told what the expectations were of a third grader in this particular school. There was no class to teach me how to catch up with everyone else. I didn’t have a clue on what to think of this whole situation or what my teacher expected of me. Lakoff’s essay goes in-depth on how these common things of linguistics, such as citing sources and writing in terms of style, should already be known and applied. But there is no class that teaches students how to really master the ideas of linguistics. The underlying argument revolves around the fact that certain things are inferred or implied, and not stated or taught. Some of Lakoff’s contemporaries believe that is enough, and it becomes the students’ responsibility to pick-up on these things. In my situation there wasn’t a class teaching me how to master the skill of reading as taught in the Pennsylvania school system. The remedial class I was placed in showed me some simple pointers and it was basically up to me to read on my own in order to get better. The hidden secret though that I was really looking for was on how to become just like one of the other main stream students.

But there was no class teaching me about the expectations of reading teachers in the Pennsylvania School system, something my classmates had been exposed to from the time they started Kindergarten. Nothing they taught me during my years in the Pennsylvania school system (grades 3 – 4) helped me to overcome this situation. Just as in the debate between Lakoff’s colleagues, it was implied I should have known these things.

The question that now remains is whether or not there should be a class in which the secrets are revealed. Shouldn’t professors and educators teach students the reasons why we must know the answers? The whole reason why professors and teachers exist is to teach students the ways to succeed. But the only way to succeed is by knowing the secrets. This is a very complex debate. The answer to the questions remains unknown. Finding the answers really depends upon each individual student and how determined they are to succeed.