I know we’re not supposed “to Google” things these days, according to some commentators, but in reality, unless one has an extensive personal library, it’s highly likely that the internet is a major source of information.
So, in looking up the notion of Cultural Capital, which is a "current" buzz phrase, Wikipedia threw up this opener: -
In the field of sociology, cultural capital comprises the social assets of a person (education, intellect, style of speech, style of dress, etc.) that promote social mobility in a stratified society. Cultural capital functions as a social-relation within an economy of practices (system of exchange), and comprises all of the material and symbolic goods, without distinction, that society considers rare and worth seeking. As a social relation within a system of exchange, cultural capital includes the accumulated cultural knowledge that confers social status and power.
In "Cultural Reproduction and Social Reproduction" (1977), Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron presented cultural capital to conceptually explain the differences among the levels of performance and academic achievement of children within the educational system of France in the 1960s; and further developed the concept in the essay "The Forms of Capital" (1985) and in the book The State Nobility: Élite Schools in the Field of Power (1996).
As someone who was originally trained in 71-74, first year in science, then transfer to a Primary based environmental Studies course, where we explored the environment as a source of learning, Bourdieu was a bit of a revelation a few years later, as he appeared to validate the substance of my earlier study.
I think that we need to look at cultural capital as a product of a learner’s interaction with, first, their surroundings.
The home being the first environment and parents the first teacher, the richness of the surroundings is likely to be the original baseline opportunity. The quality of stimulus, toys, or natural opportunity, within the house or in the garden, supplemented by interactions with older siblings or adults capable of introducing language, naming and describing things that are experienced through the senses, is either enabling or disabling through a lack of potential. The willingness or ability of the adults to take their children further afield offers enhanced stimulus; consider the potential of a local park, a wood or an open grass area for example. A limitation could be disposable income available to a family. During a school visit in Redruth, Cornwall, the head spoke of the sea being only a few miles away, but families unable to afford the bus fare, so an opportunity was not available. This will have an unseen impact on children as they may not have the experiences common to their peers. Poverty can impact in many ways.
What a school offers children when they start, then progressively through their experience needs to be as rich a diet of opportunity as possible. Having experiences that they can then take into their locality to support further engagement, with natural or man-made environments, with living things, helping them to orientate themselves would seem key to progress(ive/in) learning. Building a vocabulary for description and for asking questions are fundamental capabilities. Learning is a social activity. Externalisation enables another to offer further or alternative insights, or to add their own understandings.
In many ways, this has a simplicity at the core. The richer the diet of opportunity, in experience and support, will lead to more independence in exploratory activity that enhances the core, enabling a child to become a greater partner in, or eventually to take responsibility for their learning. Greater experience embeds greater vocabulary, which in turn supports communication and reader understanding.
Why is this contentious?
Not everyone lives in, or near London. In a previous role, I was regularly visiting London schools. The quality of work was often absolutely stunning from children in “deprived areas”. The work was often based on school visits to places of interest, museums, galleries etc, all within relatively easy reach and supported by travel on the tube or a bus ride. Culture was on the doorstep and a “day out” meant a day out. These experiences were available to families at weekends, as were broader opportunities from national organisations offering “scholarships”, Saturday morning dance or musical opportunities to areas in need.
My career was Hampshire based. The schools were sufficiently far from cultural centres to require coach hire, even for Portsmouth or Southampton. London was a minimum of a two-hour coach journey at £450+ for a class of thirty children; Southampton could cost £300 and that meant building your day within school run timetables. It was often the case that the cultural experience had greater potential if bought in; a writer, poet, artist, drama group visit.
One such that will remain in my memory, was a six-week project for year six, where I was able to ask a former London teacher to create a Hindu experience using his contacts. This involved art, drama, music, dance, art and a visit to the Southampton Hindu temple. The quality of involvement throughout was a delight to experience, as the children encountered the specifics of the culture through interaction. We were able to repeat this for a number of years, with different partners. Real people sharing their culture, making it a part of the children’s world.
Cultural capital should enable children to interact with the world as they experience it, to orientate them to their locality and to be aware of the people who inhabit their area.
Schools should be facilitators of this, offering the “best of what the area has to offer”… which can lead to the best from further afield and in time.
Pic below; a visit to Southampton art gallery, to learn how to "read" a picture.