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Gerald Graff is a professor of English and Education at the University of Illinois at Chicagomarker. He received his B.A. in English from the University of Chicagomarker in 1959 and his Ph.D. in English and American Literature from Stanford Universitymarker in 1963. He has taught at the University of New Mexicomarker, Northwestern Universitymarker, the University of California at Irvinemarker and at Berkeley, as well as Ohio State Universitymarker, Washington Universitymarker, and the University of Chicagomarker. He has been teaching at the University of Illinois at Chicago since 2000.

Graff's earlier works emphasized literature's rational, discursive qualities, and in Literature Against Itself (1979) he took aim at what he saw as the anti-mimetic, irrationalist assumptions underlying both avant-garde writing and structuralist/poststructuralist critical theory. Graff's emphasis on literature as rational statement bears comparison with the theories of Yvor Winters, his professor at Stanford in the 1960s.

Graff's later research has a heavy focus on pedagogy. He has discussed things like his own dislike of books at an early age and the way in which academic discourse is needlessly obscure. Dr. Graff is also the founder of Teachers for a Democratic Culture, an organization dedicated, in their words, to "combating conservative misrepresentations" of college pedagogy.

Graff coined the term "teach the controversy" in his college courses in the 1980s and later set the idea in print in his 1993 book Beyond The Culture Wars[119161]. Graff's thesis was that college instructors should teach the conflicts around academic issues so that students may understand how knowledge becomes established and eventually accepted. The term "teach the controversy" has since become better known after having been appropriated in a different form as the "teach the controversy" movement by individuals seeking to legitimize the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in classrooms. A self-described liberal secularist, Graff has publicly lamented what he considers the misappropriation of his idea for unscholarly purposes.

Graff teaches both graduate courses on teaching undergraduate writing and undergraduate writing courses. He teaches writing courses with his wife, Cathy Birkenstein, who is a lecturer in English and received her Ph.D. in American literature and is currently working on a biography of Booker T. Washington. She created the templates that make up They Say/I Say, a composition textbook that gives students templates to use in their academic writing.

Also, while at the University of Chicagomarker, Graff co-founded the Master of Arts Program in the Humanities (MAPH), a one-year interdisciplinary program, allowing students to take courses in philosophy, English, art history, and other fields. he is the President of the Modern Language Association.


  • Poetic Statement and Critical Dogma (1980)
  • Criticism in the University (1980)
  • Professing Literature: An Institutional History (1987)
  • Beyond the Culture Wars: How Teaching the Conflicts Can Revitalize American Education (1993)
  • Literature Against Itself: Literary Ideas in Modern Society (1979)
  • Clueless in Academe: How Schooling Obscures the Life of the Mind (2004)
  • They Say/I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing (with Cathy Birkenstein) (2005)


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