Some job adverts talk to you. They offer a world of possibility and excitement, not only for our students, but to us as professionals too. From September I’ll have a new job title. ‘Head of Careers and Cultural Capital’. I have a million ideas and bags of enthusiasm but the reaction of some has left me questioning exactly what I’m hoping to achieve in my new ‘made-up’ and ‘elitist’ job.
It stings to hear comments like that. Many I’ve spoken to have been wonderfully supportive and keen to embrace the notion of cultural capital whereas others have no idea what it means and regard it as a meaningless TLR. Ouch.
CC isn’t a new concept. For those of us with a background in Sociology, Bordieu’s theory is something we’re keenly familiar with. Developing a collective identity within one’s social class through the transmission of embodied, objectified and institutionalised features. If any readers aren’t familiar with the theory then have a read by following this link, it will help you to make sense of the rest and not turn my blog into a Sociology lesson!
Since CC was mentioned in the Ofsted framework it’s something we’re talking about much more. It perhaps doesn’t help that there doesn’t appear to be much guidance on how they’re applying the concept which has led me to develop my own rationale.
CC itself becomes problematic to society when we attribute ‘value’ to certain characteristics. Who are we to judge which culture holds more value than another? In recent times – especially considering the BLM and Me Too movements – I've been questioning this a huge amount myself. My conclusion? That we should be embracing and celebrating diversity at every possible opportunity. Our students must be encouraged to explore a multitude of culturally rich experiences to ensure that the concept of CC evolves to move away from the traditional approach that is no longer palatable to society. The beauty of my new role is that it hasn’t been done formally at my school before. I have been given the scope to create my own vision, which is exactly what I intend to do.
My main role in school is teaching English. I adore my job, but the syllabus frustrates me. The emphasis on the classics and the lack of diversity is a real issue. I’ve noticed a groundswell of feeling amongst curriculum leaders to address this by overhauling the KS3 curriculum to introduce more culturally diverse content. Hurrah for this! Not only do we need to make discussions around ethnicity the norm, the same needs to be true for (among others) gender, sexuality, religion and those from different socio-economic backgrounds too. People fear what they don’t understand. Children learn from adults. Therefore, it is our job within education to open their eyes to the beauty of a multitude of cultures the world over.
I’ll be starting the year with an audit of each department to identify where CC is already in action. I’m proud to say that as a school we are fantastic at promoting diversity and opening opportunities for our students. This is not to say that we are perfect, there is always room to improve. My plans are having to adapt in light of the current restrictions but I hope that as the year moves on we’ll be able to invite guests into school for workshops and talks as well as getting back out into the wider world and visiting exciting venues. The intention is to work closely with departments to ensure that they offer students the biggest range of experiences which will open their eyes to the world around them. For example, I hope that the Catering department will be keen to welcome chefs in from a variety of different backgrounds to introduce students to a wealth of international cuisine. It’s something small but meaningful. In future I want to develop deeper links with the local community too. In a way the possibilities are so vast it can be difficult to know exactly where to start!
A key undertaking is to embed the school values of caring, respect, determination and aspiration into my CC approach. I want students to leave us in Y11 as the best individuals they can possibly be. Students who will make a difference in the world just by being themselves. It doesn’t have to be on a global scale, even if they can make a difference to just one other person then the message of acceptance will grow.
Society is complex. I’m under no illusions that this will be an easy journey. Some students will embrace it wholeheartedly. Others will openly reject it. That doesn’t mean that we should give up. CC should empower the next generation and not restrict them.
This is how I intend to interpret CC. It might not be the traditional approach, but society has evolved.
Our students are living in a time like no other and we should do all in our power to make the world a more diverse and inclusive place for everyone.
Thanks for reading!
I left secondary school in 2014, having been introduced to topics such as class, race, beliefs, policies, crime, drugs, culture and diversity for the first time in my sociology lessons. Before this, like many other of my peers, the main source of information regarding any of these important concepts came from the TV, from newspapers, or from friends and family. And I never particularly stopped to question these opinions - whether they were biased, hurtful, or even untrue. With The Sun’s circulation hitting around 1.2 million papers a day, the British public is desensitized to the “ever-growing threat” of immigration, or ‘benefit-scroungers’, or ‘thugs’, ‘hoodies’ and ‘chavs’, or terrorists who threaten to dismantle the British “way of life”. We see these notions so prominently that we begin to believe they are true, without ever questioning the motive. It dehumanises the people they write about, and makes us blind to the hostile divide that has been created.
For many children, such as myself, I was privileged with the ignorance of topics such as race, ethnicity, and immigration until I was older and had chosen to study them in sociology at A-Level. Growing up in Bournemouth, a town where 91% are white; 57.1% identify as Christian and 38% as no religion at all, I wasn’t exposed to a great deal of intersectionality. In fact, of the 314 districts in England, only 18 have a population of less than 60% white. 15 of these 18 districts are based in London. Like millions of other children, I was mindless to the injustices that people face due to their race, class, gender, or a combination of these elements because I’d always viewed life through a simplistic white, middle-class gaze. I thought racism had died with slavery, and that healthcare, housing, educational and political institutions treated people equally. I didn’t even recognise that people from different backgrounds and ethnicities weren’t represented in TV, in advertisements, in fashion, in Barbie dolls, even in plasters available to buy in stores. I didn’t ever have to. Even feminism seemed like a joke to me - I remember me and my friends joking about feminism, and not understanding why it was still an important movement. After all, women had the vote and could now get professional jobs, shouldn’t they stop attention seeking and find more valuable causes?
Without knowing it, a lot of my early exposure to other cultures and backgrounds was primarily through programmes, music and TV. Many comedy shows such as The Simpsons, Little Britain, The Catherine Tate Show and even Friends rely heavily on exaggerated stereotypes, which is undoubtedly where I subconsciously embraced a lot of narratives about people from demographics that I very infrequently came into contact with. Growing up in Bournemouth where the majority of people are white and middle-class, my expectations and viewpoints were seldom countered and became embedded in my thinking. Even with the rise of social media and the internet, which supposedly supplies individuals with the tools to do their own research to inform their thinking, people tend to connect with friends and celebrities who have similar interests, viewpoints and narratives. This means that social media users tend to be exposed to a limited number of perspectives on important social topics, and have their opinions further cemented because they are less frequently challenged by people who think differently to them.
So why does this demonstrate that sociology is an essential school of thought? Sociology strives to answer all kinds of questions: why some people are religious, why some people take drugs and why some people struggle to acquire and maintain a job. Instead of simplistically brandishing people as inherently bad, it uses statistics, theories, people’s lived experiences and case studies to paint the whole picture. It encompasses elements of history, data science, criminology, psychology, geography and even maths to explain why things are as they are. It allows children to have educated discussions about topics that unknowingly directly impact their own lives, such as one-parent households or unconscious bias, enabling them to make sense of their surroundings and their identity. While Britain has a strong tendency to “not see race”, sociology endeavours to make race a topic of conversation. It strives, above all, for understanding, which is conducive to a better life for every individual.
Being able to learn about important social topics from a neutral, informative standpoint has allowed me to be more empathetic and understanding of other human beings’ lived experiences. It has also allowed me to be critical of media and other information that I’m presented with, which previously I would have likely accepted as truth. It has challenged notions that I have always believed to be true. Sociology has single-handedly tackled my pre-existing prejudices, discrimination and stereotypes, and has encouraged me to seek new approaches to social matters. It is a subject which openly discusses the world, its processes and problems, and seeks to improve lives through better understanding. For that reason, I have gained more knowledge and experience from studying sociology than any other subjects I studied at school combined.
My route into higher education wasn’t what you would call ‘conventional’. After starting my university education doing a drama course in Salford, I moved onto a BA in Sociology at Manchester Metropolitan University and then stepped up to a BSc (Econ) in Sociology at Cardiff University, by which time I had been in higher education for three years.
The thing that drew me to sociology was the cultural and critical thinking that I had done in my drama degree. I liked the idea of critically analysing culture and why we do the things we do and how this impacts society. For me, it’s not necessarily the content of what I learned during my sociology degree that was important, although that of course had a massive impact on my thinking around race, sex, gender, culture etc. However, it was more of this idea of critically thinking about these topics and learning how to discuss them with people who may very well have conflicting views to me, but with a common ground and desire to discuss society and culture and a longing to understand more.
In my years of compulsory education, one thing that sticks out now looking back, is the lack of teaching us how to think. Rather, we were taught what to think, which personally I don’t feel prepares you for ‘adult life’ as well as it should. It’s very well and good having knowledge on history, geography, music and so forth, but if you’re not given the ability to think about these subjects and their impacts on the individual,
you’re missing out on a whole side to them that are just as important as the basic teaching of how to do them. If we were taught why we do them, and what they mean to different people and different cultures, I feel we would all have a far better understanding of people and ‘self’.
Over the past few weeks, with the rise of ‘Black Lives Matter’ and what this means to me and my social group, I’ve found myself to be in a lucky position of being able to access resources from the my undergrad, online, but also mentally. As great as this is for me, I find it’s unfair that this isn’t just common knowledge, or knowledge that’s more widely accessible. The way in which we learnt to critically discuss society has allowed me to debate, in a productive way. It's allowed me to continue to be sceptical of society, but also more understanding of it.
To think, is to learn, and if we don’t learn, we’ll never get any better. To critically view society and culture is healthy and allows us to see different angles on subjects that we may never have thought before, opening you up to different people and different thought patterns. A sociology degree may not be for everyone, but the basic tools that you gain from it shouldn’t be limited to undergraduate level.
Have you studied, taught or contributed to the field of Sociology? We'd love to hear from you about your experiences. Anything from what you learned, how you think Sociology can help students, to how you think the Sociology syllabus can be improved. We want to hear it.