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What is Cultural Capital?

By The Arty Teacher - September 16, 2020

What is cultural capital? In educational terms, it refers to the bank of cultural experiences students can gain from different cultural opportunities that go on to give them social mobility.  E.g. Gallery visits, historic visits, music lessons, IT skills, dance lesson etc)  Families have historically passed down these advantages to their children by providing them with these opportunities.  Evidence shows that children with cultural capital do better in school and go on to do better in society, their career and the world of work.  Schools can have a huge impact on equipping students with cultural capital.

This video puts it in simple terms.

I’ve created this video in response to a group of art teachers who created a ‘Cultural Capital Think Tank’, which I read about on the NSEAD (National Society for Education in Art & Design) Facebook page.

The examples in the video above are traditional ways in which cultural capital has been passed onto school aged children. I’m certain there are many, many more ways in which we can do this, and I’d love you to share your ideas in the comments below.

When I think about Cultural Capital and the impact it has on later life, I try to imagine a young person, who wants to make progress in their career, going to a network meeting without any Cultural Captial.  It would be difficult to join in with any conversation and to build a social network.  It’s easy to see its impact on social mobility.

How can Art Educators Promote Cultural Capital?

Art educators are in a strong position to fill up students (metaphorical) schools bags with cultural capital both in school and through gallery visits.  The video below describes three and half ways to engage your students with gallery education.

Cultural Capital in the UK

Cultural Captial is a term educators around the world should be aware of.  Here in the UK there has been a new emphasis on ‘Cultural Capital’ in education since OFSTED (The Office for Standards in Education) included this term in their new framework in 2019. It is good for the arts in schools as school leaders should be putting a greater emphasis on cultural capital. A great curriculum builds cultural capital.

What is Cultural Capital?

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The Arty Teacher

Sarah Crowther is The Arty Teacher. She is a high school art teacher in the North West of England. She strives to share her enthusiasm for art by providing art teachers around the globe with high-quality resources and by sharing her expertise through this blog.

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9 responses to “What is Cultural Capital?”

  1. Kelly says:

    Thank you for this video. I found it very helpful and it has been a bit of springboard for other ideas.
    We are very isolated where we are as I teach in a country village school, so it’s not easy to get to galleries very often. But, I did hear of another teacher inviting in local artists, designers and architects to talk to the children about their work and show them examples. I thought this was another very useful way to connect them to the world of art.

    Thank you for your contributions and ideas.

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      Hi Kelly, Yes, getting to Galleries can be difficult for schools both for reasons of geography and cost. Inviting creative people in is a great idea, especially if parents or local people are willing to give their time freely. I also have a new and growing database of artists who offer workshops in schools here: https://theartyteacher.com/artists-in-schools/
      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  2. Alik says:

    It is one thing to critique the things the author considers cultural capital as overtly Eurocentric but all we have to do is make suggestions! I am reading this to find some non-Western types of cultural capital. So I cannot expect a Western teacher to help me on Islamic or African cultural capital. I would like Kay to suggest other types of cultural capital. We know there is a value placed on things Western at the expense of things Non-European.

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      Hi Alik, Thanks for your comment. I like to think that a majority of art educators are open to ideas about cultural capital from all parts of the globe. If you continue to research cultural capital and find ways to include it in your classroom, do let me know as I’d love to see this blog post grow with ideas.

  3. Kay says:

    Your cultural “capital” examples are very limited. All students bring something of value to the classroom that can enhance their learning. Let’s broaden our views as to what constitutes as cultural capital so that we as educators can give students a more complete and culturally relevant education.

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      Hi Kay, Thank you for your feedback. Of course, all students bring something of value to the classroom and I still feel privileged to teach them. However, cultural capital, by its very definition, is about their journey beyond the classroom. My examples are just that: examples. I’d love to hear your ideas and see this blog post grow with ways in which we can help our students gain the social assets they need for social mobility.

      • Kay says:

        Hi Sarah. Thank you for your response.

        I’m simply pointing out that your examples of what is considered social assets are very one sided and you may be (unintentionally) implying that only one set of cultural experiences is worth knowing.

        Of course, students should be exposed to what is deemed standard and mainstreemed so that they can participate in mainstream society. But recognizing that no child really comes to the classroom with an “empty” bag will help us as educators learn to value the vast wealth of knowledge and experiences that they do bring. When students’ values and cultural contributions are affirmed and celebrated, their learning experience and academic performance is enhanced.

      • Kay says:

        It seems you are not really open to ideas and conversation since you won’t publish my comment that points out your apparent one-sided definition of cultural capital. That’s disappointing because as educators we need to open ourselves for growth.

        • The Arty Teacher says:

          Hi Kay,
          Thank you for your messages. I have been away with family this weekend and haven’t had access to my computer to reply.

          The empty bag is just a metaphor to highlight the vast difference in opportunities that children get in a world where the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. My examples are just examples and not finite.

          I’m sure there are many, many ways in which we as educators can provide opportunities for our students to gain cultural capital. I work in a particularly multi-cultural school and love celebrating their cultural differences and giving them a sense of self-worth.

          In my last message I asked for your ideas on promoting cultural capital. I’d still love to hear them.

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