Submitted by Marsha J. McCartney, M.Ed.
From Chapter 1: Ways of Thinking about Children
Cultural capital is defined by the textbook as the knowledge and relationships an individual has that can help them to navigate different types of environments and social interactions (Bergin & Bergin, 2012). Cultural capital is a resource that students have that can help—or hinder—them in school settings. There are many unspoken “rules” in an academic classroom that can be explained by cultural capital. Examples of these rules are raising your hand to ask a question or make a comment, how to take notes, or having background information (perhaps because they’ve visited museums or been on educational vacations). Understanding cultural capital is important because it can lead to differences in academic achievement (Bergin & Bergin, 2012).
A recent study looked at two subdivisions of cultural capital, static and relational. Static cultural capital refers to the activities and practices of the parents, and relational cultural capital refers to the cultural interactions and communication between children and parents (Tramonte & Willms, 2010). The results showed that relational cultural capital had more of an effect on student’s achievement when compared to the modest effects of static cultural capital (Tramonte & Willms, 2010).
Another study looked at adolescents from 22 Western industrialized countries, and looked at cultural capital through cultural activities and cultural possessions. They found that multiple forms of cultural capital can mediate parental socioeconomic status as well as the student’s educational performance (Xu & Hampden-Thompson, 2012). Higher status families showed greater benefits from cultural capital than families of lower status (Xu & Hampden-Thompson, 2012).
The benefits of cultural capital can continue well into college. Many of the problems experienced by first-generation college students (students whose parents do not have 4-year degrees) can be partially explained by their lack of cultural capital. This study found that continuing generation college students (students who have one or more parents graduating with a 4-year degree) are primed for college preparation by listening to family members’ academic histories and parental coaching (Collier & Morgan, 2008). This leads to first-generation college students perceiving their higher education experience differently than their continuing-generation college student counterparts (Collier & Morgan, 2008).
From a slightly different perspective, a study considered the attitudes of educators when working with families of varying cultural capital. Results showed that increasing educators’ understanding of cultural capital helped them have more positive attitudes toward parents and increased their ability to engage parents in more home-school collaboration (Trainor, 2010). Clearly, educating instructors about the important role of cultural capital can benefit everyone involved in the education system.
- Bergin, C. C., & Bergin, D. A. (2012). Child and adolescent development in your classroom. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning.
- Collier, P. J., & Morgan, D. L. (2008). “Is that paper really due today?”: Differences in first-generation and traditional college students’ understandings of faculty expectations. Higher Education: The International Journal of Higher Education and Educational Planning, 55(4), 425-446.
- Trainor, A. A. (2010). Educators’ expectations of parent participation: The role of cultural and social capital. Multiple Voices for Ethnically Diverse Exceptional Learners, 12(2), 33-50.
- Tramonte, L., & Willms, D. J. (2010). Cultural capital and its effects on education outcomes. Economics of Education Review, 29(2), 200-213.
- Xu, J., & Hampden-Thompson, G. (2012). Cultural reproduction, cultural mobility, cultural resources, or trivial effect? A comparative approach to cultural capital and educational performance. Comparative Education Review, 56(1), 98-124.
- Look at your own experiences. What cultural capital do you have that others may lack?
- What cultural capital do others have that you have been aware of?
- Comment or question on the results of any of the studies mentioned above.
- In your own practice, what are some ways you could provide cultural capital experiences to those students who aren’t getting it elsewhere?