Ofsted defines the term Cultural Capital as: “the essential knowledge that children need to be educated citizens” (McTavish, 2019)
While it is intended to close the deprivation gap, I think we need to confront and challenge this term due to its myopic and classist connotations.
As a teacher, Cultural Capital has always been problematic for me. It often seems to go unchallenged, despite the problems that subtlety and unsubtly emerge from its day to day use in discussions and implementation. For instance, a trip to the Globe theatre is instantly hailed as the perfect anecdote to increasing the Cultural Capital of a supposedly disadvantaged child from a minority background. Just to clarify, I love Shakespeare and the theatre, however I refuse to view Culture as purely through the lens of whiteness. Mansell, (Guardian, 2019) argues that the importance given to Cultural Capital in the new Ofsted framework raises many issues. For instance, Mansell uses the argument from Yandell that “the notion of cultural capital implies that certain cultures are objectively more valuable than others.” (Mansell, Guardian, 2019). This relationship between Cultural Capital and cultural value is crucial and underlines my critique of the inclusion of Cultural Capital in the new Ofsted guidelines. The two most serious issues are: a) It is socially elitist and relies on an exclusionary view of culture and its value, b) the guidelines themselves are highly ambiguous on this topic.
There are a variety of hidden capitals that exist but are rarely discussed in mainstream academia. Here, the term Cultural capital is seen in a more pejorative manner. However, it is also seen as the starting point to create a discussion. The prevising idea and theme are that cultural capital views the term Culture as being synonymous with whiteness. As a scholar of Bourdieu, Yosso argues that the term Cultural Capital seems to be intrinsically linked to elitism. When used in its least contested form, what we have is a term that argues knowledge is hierarchical and therefore places certain values and most importantly some people at a deficit. Yosso argues that “while Bourdieu’s work sought to provide a structural critique of social and cultural reproduction, his theory of cultural capital has been used to assert that some communities are culturally wealthy while others are culturally poor.” (Yosso, 2006). The main idea seems to be that prevalent interpretations of Cultural Capital have in themselves become problematic and rather than challenging social hierarchies, have instead validated said hierarchies.
Cultural Capital as an explanation is not a panacea for all explanations of inequality and therefore Yosso’s work seeks to unearth a variety of these. These goes as follows: ‘Aspirational capital’ which refers to the notion of resilience and the ability to maintain hopes and dreams for the future (2006). ‘Linguistic capital’ focuses on the capital that many students have that is undoubtedly ignored, that of ‘communication experiences in more than one language and/or style’. Linguistic capital relates to a lot of students who are categorised as having English as an Additional or Second Language. Their Capital is often ignored, due to assumptions of intelligence and capability. Familial capital refers to those ‘cultural knowledges nurtured among family’(2006). Again, when certain cultures are stereotyped as having some sort of innate deficit, the role of familial ties and connections that are far less overt, go unnoticed. Social capital is defined as ‘networks of people and community resources’ and has a clear correlation with ‘Familial capital’ (2006). This poses the question of how and why the work of certain communities in enhancing and supplementing a child’s education is often unnoticed. ‘Navigational capital’ refers to skills of manoeuvrings through social institutions, this takes place mainly in institutions where minorities find themselves to be less present (2006). Resistant capital refers those knowledges and skills fostered through oppositional behaviour that challenges inequality (2006).
The main variation of capital that I am going to mainly focus on is ‘resistance capital’ (Yosso, 2006). This term does not see students of different backgrounds as being at an acute disadvantage. I want to question why this more nuanced analysis of Cultural Capital is not used more widely. This leads me to enquire whether Yosso’s statement, whilst now comparatively old, is still is too progressive for mainstream educational policy. If so, does this speak of the structure of Education as being complicit in constantly upholding an idea of hierarchy? What can we do as teachers? Well, we must challenge the status quo, uphold the cultures that get ignored, present a new form of capital that is not performatively inclusive and understand that our children deserve more than a tick box trip to a museum.
Mansell, W(2019) “Ofsted plan to inspect ‘cultural capital’ in schools attacked as elitist” Guardian (accessed 20th April)
McTavish, A (2019) “Cultural Capital” Early Education https://www.early-education.org.uk/cultural-capital (accessed 06/09/2020)
Yosso, T, J (2006) “Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth”. University of California. Race, Ethnicity and Education. (accessed 20th May)