Cultural Capital

By Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman

Source: March 31, 2016

Ok, the gag is funny. But it lacks bite because it is implausible. Jeremy’s dad is a dentist, and Jeremy really does understand what it takes to succeed. We laugh because it’s silly.

But what about those students who really do not understand the difference between inadequate, barely adequate and successful work? There are some in almost every classroom. It’s not their fault; they simply lack the household resources (i.e. parents who understand academic success and impress this cluster of attitudes and behaviours on their children).

I’ve written before about the importance of establishing clear criteria for success in the classroom. This goes beyond task success. To get into medical school, a student needs to adopt a way of life that supports this goal. The student needs to understand the quantity and level of work required. And the student needs to have a solid strategic grasp of where the greatest rewards for study and assignment effort stand. It is not surprising that success in entering medical school (or any other professional school) runs in families. How else is a student to gain the social capital to establish this kind of success?

Yes, I know. Sometimes a kid comes from the most unlikely of backgrounds to become a mover and shaker in a field. The reason we know these stories is that they are unusual. And the press loves these stories because they fit tidily into our favoured grand narrative–everyone who works hard can be anything they want. But if that were really true, we wouldn’t have systemic gender-, or cultural-, or socio-economic under- and over-representation in the most lucrative fields, would we?

What to do? I don’t have the details for you. But coming clear about the issue is a good start. If you’re a parent or a teacher, take a good look at how your child/student is working. Take a look at those who are succeeding in ways that are important to your child/student (and you). Is there a gap? Is  there something that can or should be done about it?


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