Gerald Graff's 'Hidden Intellectualism' (Pedagogy, 2001) is a meditation on how students' seemingly unintellectual interests (sports, etc.) can be an avenue to the development of their intellectual dispositions and talents. (That's one way to see the nascent 'philosophy and popular culture' movement, as encouraging people to see patterns of philosophical thinking in pop cultural objects.)
Aside from this, Graff remarks that argumentation is often marginalized in educational settings because it too closely resembles the very violence that educators and parents are trying to forestall via education:
for many educators and parents, "fighting with ideas" seems dangerously close enough to fighting "with fists or guns" that it can be difficult to imagine how argumentation can be a substitute for violence. Our tendency to see argument as a form of violence rather than an alternative to violence helps explain why the studious avoidance of open conflict is such a prominent feature of the American high school and often the college and university. ... Like the antiseptic shopping mall, the school maintains an appearance of harmony and choice that denies the realities of conflict. Though this repression of conflict does help preserve short-term peace and quiet, it ultimately bottles up aggressions that, when they do erupt, are more likely to take antisocial and destructive forms than they might if they had an intellectual outlet.Graff (sounding a bit like Habermas) suggests that academic argumentation might be an outlet for negotiating conflicts that might otherwise be addressed in more antisocial ways.
It's often been noted that among academic disciplines, philosophy is 'combative'. And as we've noted here at ISW, that combativeness attracts some students, but drives away many. Philosophy, I suspect, strikes many students as uncivil, nearly rude in its insistence on not letting anyone's core assumptions about truth, reality, or value go unscrutinized. To my eyes, many students fear philosophy for precisely this reason. Its combativeness verges too close to bona fide conflict. (This was perfectly obvious when I taught at a Southern university as a graduate student!)
Of course, there's likely to be disagreement about whether this combativeness is even a pedagogical problem, much the less how instructors might combat the combativeness. Is this a problem in teaching our discipline, or is it, as Graff seems to hint, an argument for the value of philosophy: philosophy as mind-to-mind combat that displaces hand-to-hand combat? And if it is a problem, how do we respond?