Thursday, February 21, 2013


Why do I have to read about stupid Romeo and Juliet?

Why do I have to learn about history?

When am I ever going to use geometry when I'm out of school?

Politics bores me!  Why talk about it at all?

These questions will be recognized by teachers and parents alike.  Kids often wonder why they have to learn history or read literature in school.  When their ambition is to become a hair stylist or to work construction, kids are often frustrated with what they perceive as pointless academic information.  They simply lack foresight and an understanding of the world.  Without the cultural literacy that school curriculum teaches, a kid will be disadvantaged in social situations and conversations when they venture into the real world.

A K-12 education prepares students for knowledge that will help them succeed in their adult life.  If someone decides not to venture on to college after completing high school, they are still equipped with valuable knowledge -- how to read and analyze text, a basic understanding of America's history and political system, and math skills among other things.

English, history, and economics are subjects that teach important cultural knowledge.  The social sciences are included in some of cultural literacy, but the bulk of it comes from the humanities (Hirsch, 2002) through various forms of communication – speech, written word, and media.  It is gleaned from the stories we tell such as nursery rhymes and traditional tales.

Home Life Influences Child's Cultural Literacy

When a student arrives in the classroom, they carry with them knowledge and life experiences they’ve received from early home life.  If their parents didn’t read to them and provided little to no educational activities, children often have limited vocabularies and limited cultural knowledge.  They may know a lot about certain television shows and understand some idioms, but the child may not know traditional tales or understand educational concepts other students know.

Cultural capital refers to non-financial social assets that affect social mobility such as "language and social roles, general cultural background, knowledge, and skills that is passed from one generation to the next" (de Marrais and Le Compte, 1995, as cited by Gallego and Hollingsworth, 2000).

Here are some examples of high versus low cultural capital: 



Bedtime stories at night.

Not read to at home.

Educational television.

Television is a babysitter.

Educational games.

Entertainment is not educational.

Parents help with homework or hire tutor.

Receive no help with homework.

High expectations about academic achievement.
Low expectations about academic achievement.

Essentially cultural capital is the values and attitudes about knowledge and success that a parent passes down to their children.  This has a direct affect on their success in school.
Children that come from families and neighborhoods with little money, limited access to educational resources and healthcare, and raised by parents who dropped out of school, have low cultural capital.  When they arrive in school, they are already behind peers raised in homes by highly educated parents with money to easily access educational materials.
If the child comes from a home that speaks a language different than English, and have parents who know little about American culture, then the kid is on a huge learning curve when they arrive in school.  They not only need to learn a great deal of English vocabulary, they need to learn American social norms and collective childhood cultural literacy (Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs for example).

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