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Cultural Capital pt 2: what 'culture' are we supposed to capitalise on?

As, seemingly with all big ideas in education, the concept of cultural capital has begun to morph into a slimline version which seems to stereotypically equate to visiting a theatre, talking about politics at the dining table, and playing a classical musical instrument.

Equally, comments are cropping up to state that cultural capital is NOT a trip to the theatre/any other stereotypically mid-upper class activity.

But it is.

  • it's having seen a Shakespeare play outside of school;
  • it's knowing that orange is the complimentary colour to blue;
  • it's having a relative or neighbour who was part of the Windrush Generation;
  • it's watching cartoons;
  • it's knowing the weight of a hammer/a filled rucksack/the weight of expectation from high achieving parents;
  • it's knowing that hem lines went up and down through the 20th century in line with economic status;
  • it's being a young carer;
  • it's speaking a language other than English fluently;
  • it's having tried to learn a second language and given up;
  • it's knowing that a 'red sky at night' is 'shepherd's delight';
  • it's being aware that oysters are grown on racks;
  • it's knowing that more black men are incarcerated that any other group in society;
  • it's having been in the sea;
  • it's knowing that if you eat something too spicy, water won't sooth the burn; 
  • it's having been to a library;
  • it's having anxiety;
  • it's being a pro at injecting insulin because you've done it every day since you were four;
  • it's knowing that the humble washing machine truly did change lives.

Our aim as educators should certainly be to add to our students' (and our own) cultural knowledge and experiences, but we should seek to broaden these experiences. For some students, that means listening to classical music; for others, it might be budgeting for a week living on Universal Credit, or learning the root words of a range of vocabulary, as well as links to vocabulary in other languages. All of our experiences add to our cultural capital and all of them help us to interpret texts, language and situations - the broader our experiences become, the broader our understanding becomes.